The collapse of the Soviet Union is inextricably tied to the reformist policies of the then-General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev came to power in a single-party, multi-ethnic state that ruled a network of satellite countries by force and coercion. By weakening Soviet mechanisms for maintaining power, Gorbachev's reforms undermined the ability of the state to hold onto its possessions and stave off internal challenges.
The proximate cause of the Soviet collapse was the attempt, on Aug. 19, 1991, to overthrow Gorbachev and install a new regime of Communist hardliners. The coup was likely timed to prevent the ratification of a treaty that would have converted the Soviet Union into a European Union-style confederation with less centralized authority. The coup attempt was thwarted when loyal units of the Soviet army, responding to the orders of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, refused to fire on protesters at the Kremlin.
In the months following the abortive coup, one republic after another declared independence from the central government in Moscow, where Gorbachev's authority was weaker than ever. The end came on Dec. 21, when 11 of the 12 republics, excluding Georgia, signed the Alma-Alta Protocol, which recognized the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The delegates at the meeting also accepted Gorbachev's resignation, which had not been offered yet. On Dec. 26, the Soviet Council of Republics voted itself out of existence, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.Learn More
A total of 58,209 Americans died in the Vietnam War. Of these, 47,424 are listed as combat deaths, and 10,785 are listed as being killed in other circumstances. In addition, 2,489 Americans are listed as missing.Full Answer >
No single incident marked the beginning of the American war in Vietnam, though several watershed moments passed between the 1954 defeat of the French occupying force and the negotiated end of hostilities in 1973. The 1954 Geneva agreement, which ended the French presence in Indochina, called for a referendum on the form of government Vietnam would adopt in 1956. The United States cancelled the vote, and hostilities began.Full Answer >
The McCarthy trials were a series of investigations into the U.S. Army conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950. The trials began when McCarthy charged more than 200 members of the Department of State with being known communists. From there, McCarthy rose to fame as a communist hunter who accused and investigated people he suspected to be Communists; this came to be known as his witch hunt for communists.Full Answer >
The Iran hostage crisis occurred when Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a domineering Iranian ruler who was recently expelled from his country, was granted access into the United States by President Jimmy Carter to receive cancer treatment. This caused an outrage in Iran, leading many Iranian citizens to feel greatly betrayed by the country that once supported them. Iran's Islamic citizens eventually stormed the U.S. embassy, holding 66 Americans hostage.Full Answer >