Whether you spent 2008 with your nose buried in the politics or business section of your favorite newspaper, there were some major headlines on the front page that no one missed. From the presidential election to the bailout plan, it's been hard to tear our eyes away from the life-changing events unfolding before us. The year had a little something to offer everyone. Maybe you were watching the stock market's rocky trajectory -- or that of Britney Spears' career. Perhaps you scanned the news for the latest updates on the oil drilling controversy, or you might've been focused on the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Every year has its share of memorable news stories, but in 2008, many events transpired that'll have history textbook editors scrambling. And if you haven't been keeping news clippings for your scrapbook, you might've forgotten what happened earlier this year. That's where HowStuffWorks comes in. We're not just about hybrid car technology and cloud computing (though we certainly know our stuff when it comes to those topics). We're history buffs, too -- and that includes history in the making. Here are 10 headlines from 2008 that will go down in history -- and a couple that you might have missed. From Asia to Europe, North America to Africa, and even the land down under, the world was humming with activity. And we haven't just recapped the highlights for you. We've matched up these history-in-the-making moments with some of our best history and politics articles to put the events in perspective. So pour a cup of coffee, settle into your most comfortable chair and read about history like a modern scholar: on a Web site.
Name a defining moment of the 2004 presidential elections. Can't think of one? Can you remember the candidates who squared off? Their running mates? It'll be a long time before anyone forgets the faces and events of the 2008 elections. While John McCain put Wasilla, Alaska, on the map and lured comedian Tina Fey back to "Saturday Night Live" after tapping Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, the Democratic Party was making strides toward history. Months before the Democratic Convention, it appeared that the two strongest candidates for the party's nomination were Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton. While Clinton would be remembered as the first woman in U.S. history to make a serious bid for the presidency, Obama became the country's first black president. The Obama fundraising campaign was also one of the most lucrative in history, and his platform of change attracted a significant portion of the youth vote. The Obama and Clinton campaigns became forever intertwined when President-elect Obama chose Clinton as his secretary of state. For more on these history-makers' campaigns and political careers, read How Barack Obama Works and How Hillary Clinton Works.
They were both the unlikeliest and likeliest adversaries: Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Unlikely because Russia trumps Georgia in size and military might, yet likely because they were both after the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The European Union began its official investigation of the conflict on Dec. 2, after nearly three months of finger-pointing between Russia and Georgia. On Aug. 8, a skirmish broke out as Georgian troops and tanks fired on the region's capital, Tskhinvali. Russia retaliated by sending tanks into Georgia and flooding the nation's skies with fighter planes. While Georgia claims that it was acting defensively, Russia insists that it was protecting pro-Russian South Ossetians in the combat zone. The conflict was the result of years of tension between Russia and Georgia, as well as mounting strife from Kosovo's recent declaration of independence. Enduring the international community's criticism for its heavy-fisted invasion of Georgia, Russia seemed on the verge of a more serious retaliation against the country. After months of fighting, in which Russia ostensibly emerged as the victor, South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke ties with Georgia. For now, only Russia is acknowledging the independence of the two breakaway nations. What exactly is a breakaway nation, and how do you ensure safety and solid infrastructure if you start your own country?
In some nations around the world, there's a real dearth of food -- and what food is available is awfully expensive. Rising food prices are indicative of a new kind of demand: Harvests are being turned over to biofuel initiatives. Corn and grain harvests in particular are gold mines for biofuel experiments, and not enough has been rationed for the people who depend on the output for the mainstay of their diets. For the first time since the 1970s, the food shortage is a global-scale issue, not a small-scale problem related to local farms turning out poor harvests. When the situation gets particularly dire, people go hungry or become desperate. In late October, The Moscow Times reported that a homeless man from Kamchatka and two accomplices were arrested for murdering a man, butchering his body, frying and eating it. A wake-up call for the world's agricultural community? Perhaps, but cannibalism can be motivated by more than just hunger, though it's rare to hear about it in the 21st century. Whether it's a case of survival, ritual or malice, you can read about the practice's origins in How Cannibalism Works.
Of all the ancient world's mysteries, from the Egyptian pyramids to the stylized stone heads of Easter Island, Stonehenge has been one of the most baffling to archaeologists. Theories of all varieties have been purported to explain the purpose of these looming bluestone formations. For the first time in 45 years, scientists obtained clearance from the Druids to excavate the World Heritage site. Their findings? Stonehenge is older than we originally thought -- nearly 500 years older. According to the scientists' observations, it was likely erected in 3000 B.C. While scientists once thought that Stonehenge was a burial ground, some schools now suspect that it was used as a healing site. Evidence points to the bluestones being moved and repositioned as well as being pummeled by hammers and other tools that ancient people may have used to obtain a piece of the healing rock. Modern Druids corroborate this theory, having long insisted that Stonehenge is a harbinger of good luck, if not healing powers. Which of the world's ancient wonders will be demystified next? Learn about the processes of excavation and preservation in How Archaeology Works and What is a World Heritage site?
In early February, the torture question was on everyone's minds. When is torture legal -- if ever? After Sept. 11, 2001, six men thought to be responsible for the terrorist attacks were questioned by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and it later came to light that the CIA had used tactics expressly forbidden by the Geneva Convention. The White House responded that interrogation techniques like waterboarding are acceptable if the president and attorney general condones them. But humanitarian groups weren't any more comfortable with this answer than they had been in 2001, when Vice President Dick Cheney declared that in waging the War on Terror, the conventional rules of war didn't apply. Raising hackles even more, videotapes that had been used to record the CIA's interrogations of two al-Qaida suspects were destroyed. Ultimately, the torture question and the CIA's exceptions to the rules of war would leave lasting impressions about the efficacy and justice of the Bush administration.
Between 1910 and 1970, nearly 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their parents as part of a campaign to phase out Australia's native race. These children became known as the Stolen Generation. The Australian government upheld the campaign because studies showed that Aborigines were at a higher risk for alcoholism, infant mortality, criminal behavior and drug addiction than non-native Australians. Separated from their families, Aboriginal children were meant to be assimilated into white society but faced emotional turmoil as a result of not being accepted on the basis of their race. What's more, they were cut from the comforts and identity of their own cultural heritage. No prime minister had offered a formal apology to the members of the Stolen Generation due to fear of sweeping lawsuits and demand for financial reparations. But on Feb. 13, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered a formal apology nearly a century in the making. To date, only one member of the Stolen Generation has received financial reparations for his suffering. Learn more in How Aborigines Work and What was Australia's Stolen Generation?
About 500 years ago, explorers began searching for a shortcut between Europe and Asia. The tantalizing idea of a shorter route between the continents was once the stuff of fiction, but then sailors stumbled upon an icy path from Baffin Bay to the Bering Strait connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But like many shortcuts, the hassle of traversing the iceberg-ridden Northwest Passage nearly negates the convenience of the route. In fact, it has never been completely passable until now. The European Space Agency (ESA) published satellite images of the region that showed melting Arctic ice and a nearly obstacle-free waterway. While it's bad news for environmentalists, the melting ice brings glad tidings for businessmen. As the Panama and Suez Canals become more heavily trafficked, the prospect of using the Northwest Passage has Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States clamoring for rights to the waterway. For now, the countries are sitting tight, but if the region continues to thaw, the question on everyone's mind is: Could the Northwest Passage open for business?
It seemed entirely unthinkable in our linked-up, ultra-connected, Wi-Fi world: How could a tribe remain undiscovered in the Amazon in the 21st century? Photos of an Amazon tribe were published in major news outlets worldwide on May 29 and 30, and we stared agog at the tribal people brandishing bows and arrows at the photographers. Then, the real story came a few days later. These weren't exactly members of an undiscovered tribe; they were members of an uncontacted tribe. The difference in terminology is significant. Undiscovered means that no one has ever apprehended that group before. Uncontacted means that the government of the country in which they live knows they're there -- but no one is bothering them. First contact occurs when an isolated group is approached by an outside party, be it anthropologists or loggers. In the case of this Amazon tribe, first contact had already been made, and the group was being threatened by encroaching loggers, ranchers and oil prospectors. The Brazilian government released the images of this tribe -- originally taken between April 28 and May 2 -- to show the world firsthand the people who are threatened by deforestation. Lesson learned? Time will tell.
Beijing was named the site of the 2008 Olympic Games back in 2001. The honor of hosting the games is always guaranteed to put a city in the spotlight, foster a boom in infrastructure and bring in a truckload of revenue from tourism. But in the case of Beijing, it also infused the Chinese with great pride. China wanted to show the world that despite negative impressions of the Communist regime, it could pull off one of the greatest feats of diplomacy, hospitality and showmanship. The opening ceremony, which took place at 8:08 p.m. on Aug. 8, was considered an auspicious time to deliver children. And while it was unlikely that many mothers would give birth at the same moment as the ceremony began, parents found other ways to commemorate their newborn children and the Olympic Games. Nearly 3,500 children were named Aoyun, or "Olympics." Thousands more found namesakes in the Chinese Olympic mascots: Bei Bei, Jing Jing, Huan Huan, Ying Ying and Ni Ni. For more on this baby-naming trend, read Have thousands of children in China been named "Olympics"?
On Sept. 24, Pres. George W. Bush got right to the point in a national address: "Our entire economy is in danger." He was rallying support for a $700 billion bailout plan called the Paulson Package, which ultimately failed to garner much approval. After a couple of all-nighters, Congressional leaders revealed their own bill: the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. But this bill fell flat by a vote of 228 to 205 against it in the House. The Senate jazzed it up once again, and the bill at last passed by a margin of 263 to 171. Why so much contention? And how exactly was the $700 billion in the bailout plan allocated to be spent? The bailout marks the most significant instance of government interference in the economy since the legislation made under the Great Depression. The money was originally meant to buy up bad loans from mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, but recent news suggests that some funds should be spent to shore up banks. In November, talk of an automotive industry bailout made headlines, and on Dec. 1, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the United States is officially in a recession.
So those are 10 of many memorable moments from 2008 that'll be recorded in the annals of history. From an overdue apology to generations of Aborigine children and a massively flailing global economy to new insights about one of the world's oldest mysteries, the year has been packed with news-making events.
The guys at Stuff They Don't Want You To Know break down some of the myths behind the Salem witch trials.
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