To the Western mind, 1979 may seem an unremarkable year. The year 1939 saw the start of World War II; 1969, the moon landing; 1989, the crumbling of the Iron Curtain. In comparison, it doesn’t look as if 1979 has much to boast about. But as Christian Caryl, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine, relates, 1979 looks a little different the farther you stray from the Atlantic: It was the occasion of five watershed moments in history that contributed directly, he claims, to the shape of our world today.
The five moments shed different lights on the same essential story: the global rejection of the socialist experiment. In each case, strong leaders and movements rolled back the status quo of statism. In England, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister and led her country back to free markets. In Poland, Pope John Paul II and his Catholic followers faced off against the Soviet empire. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini helped turn a revolt against the shah into a revolution against the monarchy. In Afghanistan, Islamist forces stymied the Soviet invasion and ended any possibility of a Marxist regime’s taking hold. And in China, Deng Xiaoping spearheaded his nation’s rejection of Maoism, leading to that country’s remarkable rise. In some of these instances, the new status quo became more oppressive than the preceding one, but Caryl does well to show how each watershed moment began with a sense of renewal or liberation.