Note: Robert Blevins is the managing editor for Adventure Books of Seattle, and the author of several works, including Into The Blast - The True Story of D.B. Cooper, and The 13th Day of Christmas. Into The Blast was the subject of a recent episode on the History Channel show Brad Meltzer's Decoded. The book alleges Kenny Christiansen, a former US Army paratrooper and an actual employee of the hijacked airline, as the famous skyjacker.
Selecting the top ten events was a difficult job indeed. I narrowed it down in a couple of ways. First, I only included historical events that actually happened or generally started in the United States itself. Second, I tried to pick things that define America as we know it today.
From the Past to the Present:
1) The American Revolution
Everything about America today started right here. You could point to any number of other events, such as Columbus' discovery of the New World, or the Mayflower, but America was going to be discovered sooner or later. However, it was the Revolution that actually created the United States.
2) The Lewis and Clark Expedition
These guys were the first to 'go where no man has gone before'. Their daring exploration of discovery was a monumental gamble. The fact that they returned alive was a miracle in itself. The information they brought back with them was the first step in settling the West.
3) The Western Migration and The California Gold Rush
I lumped these events together, because in many ways they are related. The offer of free land for settlers and the possibility of riches lying on the ground touched off one of the largest human migrations in history. Along the way, an entire race was subjugated and nearly wiped out by disease and outright murder. Cities, towns, states, and a new breed of Americans were created where only wilderness had existed previously. By the time it was over in the 1890's, America had become a nation with two coasts, Indian guilt, and a colorful history.
4) The Civil War
The War Between The States split America in two. The bitterness and divisions caused by the war still plague America today. Although slavery was ended by the war, racism became stronger afterward. A hundred and fifty years later, the effects of the war still echo throughout the country. The South was economically destroyed by the war, and many states have not completely recovered. America lost its arguably best President and hundreds of thousands of its citizens. It could take another century before all the wounds are healed.
5) The Inventors
The Industrial Revolution was already shaping the future of the country in the late 19th century, but it needed leaders to guide it into the 20th. American inventors such as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Samuel Morse, and Alexander Graham Bell helped create a new revolution - and a new America. Their work can be linked to everything that has happened in technology since.
6) Pearl Harbor
World War II was already in full swing on December 7, 1941. America would have entered the war eventually, but the nation would not have been galvanized to action to the degree it was without Pearl Harbor. Without Pearl, it is doubtful the United States would have committed so many resources to the development of the atomic bomb. But when we did, it changed our nation and the world forever.
The Vietnam War was a decade-long check-in at the Reality Hotel for America. Until Vietnam, it was assumed the United States could shape foreign policy in any way it wished, and in any place it wanted. The war changed our outlook on the world and made Americans realize there WAS a global community - and that we would have to make policy decisions within that framework.
8) The Moon Landing
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their step for man and mankind, America began expanding beyond the planet. Although there have been a few missteps along the way, space has become a regular part of American life that continues today - and a major employer.
9) The Dawn of the Information Age
Bill Gates and company, the Internet, and the invention of modern computers changed not only America, but the world. As Andy Warhol predicted, everyone would become famous for fifteen minutes - and many did, because of the Internet. However, the Information Age also ushered in freedom and fear together. Freedom to communicate around the planet, and fear about the results of technology. The future, and where all of this will eventually lead, is still in doubt.
September 11, 2001 brought the latest shift in conciousness and Americans' outlook on the world. The results were an unpopular war and polarized divisions within the citizenry. The collapse of the World Trade Center also brought home the uncomfortable realization that some people out there really hate America, and continue to do so. It was a wake-up call and a loss of innocence. For the first time, talk of freedom and the Bill of Rights faded a bit as the government responded to terror threats with non-Constitutional laws. Like the Information Age, the eventual results remain to be seen.
*Robert Blevins is the co-founder of Adventure Books of Seattle. He is the author of Say Goodbye to the Sun, The Corona Incident, The 13th Day of Christmas, Dimensions, (with British author Geoff Nelder) and several other works.