118 People, Events and Things Name-Checked in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Complete With Comic Book Connections
On September 17, 1978, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords, laying the groundwork for a permanent peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
Born in Belarus in 1913, Begin made his way to British-controlled Palestine in 1941, where he was conscripted by the British army as an interpreter. His dedication to creating a Jewish homeland led to him becoming a commander in the militant Irgun underground, which in turn led to British authorities putting a $50,000 bounty on the “grim-faced, bespectacled Menachem Begin[‘s]” head.
After the establishment of Israel in 1948, Begin transformed his resistance group into the Freedom (Herut) Party. Though they didn’t fare well in the first few elections, by 1967 Begin joined the National Unity government and in 1970 became joint chairman of the “Unity” (Likud) coalition, which won the national election in May 1977.
As prime minister, Begin was adamant about retaining the occupied territories, and he stood firmly against the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He was more flexible with Sinai, which Israel picked up after a skirmish with Egypt; for returning Sinai in exchange for peace, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Sadat in 1978.
In 1982, an invasion of Lebanon to secure Israel’s northern border and events surrounding the Sabra and Shatila Massacre turned world opinion against Israel, and many within the country pressured Begin to resign. That and the death of his wife in late 1982 led to Begin leaving office in August 1983, handing the reins over to Yitzhak Shamir.
Fun fact: In an interview with New York magazine, X-Men writer Chris Claremont once said he had always seen Professor X and Magneto as echoes of David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin: “My view of Magneto is that he’s the terrorist who might someday evolve into a statesman.”
In 2013, HarperCollins published Jonathan Hennessey’s and Aaron McConnell’s The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation. From the back cover: “Striking at the underlying meaning of Lincoln’s words, it uses the Address to tell the whole story of the Civil War… The book depicts pivotal events that led to the upheaval of the secession crisis, the crucial Battle of Gettysburg, and the conflict’s still-unfolding legacy with firsthand accounts from Americans from all walks of life.”
Begin earns a mention in the book by demonstrating his knowledge of U.S. history — and Lincoln’s address in particular — during a meeting with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in 1978.
On Jan. 21, 1981, Ronald Reagan is sworn in as the 40th U.S. president. During his first inaugural address, he said: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”… making him a champion for smaller, less intrusive government. That’s good!
By 1989, however, total federal employment was 5.3 million, up from 4.9 million when he took office, with increased government spending in that same time tripling the national debt. Ooh, that’s bad.
Hmmm, this source says under Reaganomics the nation found the formula for economic growth by lowering taxes, reducing government regulation and making it easier for people to keep the money they earned. As a result, employment soared and the country saw its longest peacetime economic boom. That’s good!
But this other source says the financial deregulation and changes to the tax code that Reagan brought in widened the gap between rich and poor, caused nearly 750 different financial institutions to fail, and drove hundreds of thousands of families off their farms, with Reagan even vetoing a farm credit bill that would have given them relief. Ooh, that’s bad.
This website says Reagan’s soaring oratory inspired Americans to remember the rugged individualism and self-determination that made America great, and he made people feel good again after a decade of malaise. That’s good!
But this one over here says at least 138 Reagan administration officials, including several cabinet members, were investigated for, indicted for, or convicted of crimes — the largest number of any U.S. president. Ooh, that’s bad.
It says here that Reagan brought freedom to the world by insisting Gorbachev “tear down this wall” and using “peace through strength” to build up American defences and end the Cold War. That’s good!
Oh, but over here it says Reagan supported the Apartheid government of South Africa, armed the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan (who then took those weapons and training to form al-Qaeda), and sold arms to both sides of the Iran-Iraq War while breaking his own law to supply weapons to Nicaraguan rebels. Ooh, that’s bad.
Huh. Usually the internet is in complete agreement on these political matters. Weird. Ah well, I’ll just sit back and enjoy this free, non-cursed Frogurt while everyone else figures this one out. (slurp)
No matter where you stand on Reagan’s legacy, one thing’s for sure: like any good actor, he knew how to play the part of president when the nation’s comic artists called him to the stage.
On December 9, 1987, in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, the first riots of the Palestinian intifada (“tremor” or “shaking off” in Arabic) begin one day after an Israeli truck crashes into a station wagon carrying Palestinian workers in the Jabalya refugee district of Gaza, killing four. Within hours, Palestinians take to the streets in protest, burning tires and throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli police and troops. An Israeli army patrol car fired on Palestinian attackers, killing a 17-year-old, while riots spread to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
That year marked the 20th anniversary of the Israeli conquest of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, lands formerly controlled by Egypt and Jordan that the Palestinians called home. After 1967’s Six-Day War, Israel set up military administrations in the occupied territories and permanently annexed East Jerusalem in the West Bank.
With the support of the Israeli government, Israeli settlers moved into the occupied territories, seizing Arab land. By December 1987, 2,200 Jewish settlers occupied 40 per cent of the Gaza Strip, while 650,000 Palestinians were crowded into the other 60 per cent, making the Palestinian portion one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.
The intifada lasted until 1992, when newly installed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin froze new Israeli settlements in the occupied territory. Negotiations in 1993 led to an accord that called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the establishment of a Palestinian government that would eventually be granted authority over much of the West Bank.
The Israelis completed their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho in May 1994, and both Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. However, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995, and the peace process stalled under his successors. A permanent peace in the region remains elusive.
In 1991, cartoonist Joe Sacco spent two months in the Israeli-occupied areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Palestine, the nine-issue series that came out of that experience (published between 1993 and 1995 and collected in one volume in 2001) is a form of journalism rarely seen in the media, let alone in comics. Sacco spent his time there meeting with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and aside from some flashbacks to historical events the narrative focuses on the details of everyday life in the occupied territories, presenting the daily struggles, humiliations and frustrations of the Palestinians.
As one reviewer writes, “The art can be occasionally off-putting, with Sacco’s self-caricature sitting ill alongside the more naturalistic portrayal of others, but it sucks the reader in very quickly… One hopes [the series] has had some effect beyond being fifteen minutes reading an issue.”
105. Terror on the airline
Airline hijackings have been around almost as long as air travel, with the first recorded hijacking taking place in Peru in 1931. It was common at the height of the Cold War for desperate dissidents to commandeer planes as a way to escape from behind the Iron Curtain, but the “golden age” of plane hijackings ran from 1968 to the early 1980s, when new boarding rules made it harder to smuggle weapons onto planes.
On June 27, 1976, an Air France flight with 248 passengers en route from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by terrorists demanding the release of 40 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel and 13 prisoners in four other countries. The flight was diverted after a stopover in Athens via Benghazi, Libya, to Entebbe, the main airport in Uganda.
Ugandan dictator Idi Amin supported the hijackers and personally welcomed them. After the hostages where moved from the plane to a disused airport building, the hijackers separated all Israelis and several non-Israeli Jews from the larger group and forced them into a separate room. Over the following two days, 148 non-Israeli hostages were released and flown out to Paris. Ninety-four passengers along with the 12-member crew remained as hostages and were threatened with death.
A daring nighttime rescue mission for those remaining hostages was carried out by Israel Defense Forces commandos. When the smoke cleared, the death toll included all the hijackers, 45 Ugandan soldiers, one Israeli soldier and three of the hostages. As a result of the operation, the U.S. military developed rescue teams modelled on the unit employed in the Entebbe rescue. Several films, including last year’s Entebbe, were based on the incident.
Of course, not all hijackings are politically motivated; sometimes the hijackers are in it purely for the money. If only every flight could have a billionaire’s robotic maid flying in coach…
(“Nerves of Steel,” Richie Rich Money World #4, 1973)
106. Ayatollah’s in Iran
On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran in triumph after 15 years in exile. Born in 1902, Ruhollah Khomeini was a devout Shiite cleric who attracted many disciples as he rose through the Shiite hierarchy. After British and Russian troops installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the second modern Shah of Iran in 1941, Khomeini found his pro-Western stance at odds with his own beliefs in an Islamic state.
By now known by the high Shiite title “ayatollah,” Khomeini openly called for the Shah’s overthrow, leading to his imprisonment in 1963 and expulsion from the country in 1964. While Khomeini continued to preach to his people from afar, the Shah’s grip on power grew weaker until early 1979, when massive protests forced him to flee to Egypt.
After Khomeini returned and was acclaimed leader of the Iranian Revolution, he consolidated his power and set out to transform Iran into a religious state. Then, on November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the staff hostage. With Khomeini’s approval, they demanded the return of the Shah to Iran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
While in power, Khomeini proved to be just as ruthless as the Shah, with thousands of political dissidents executed under his rule, Western culture banned, women denied equal rights and — in one of his final acts before his death in 1989 — a fatwa calling for the murder of British writer Salman Rushdie over his book The Satanic Verses.
And of course, there was that one time Khomeini appointed the Joker to be Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. No, for real.
(Batman #428, 1988)
107. Russians in Afghanistan
On December 24, 1979, about 30,000 Soviet troops storm the Tajbeg Palace in Afghanistan and assassinate Afghan President Hafizullah Amin, sparking a nearly decade-long war often referred to as the Soviet Union’s own Vietnam War.
International reaction to the invasion was swift. On January 2, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter recalled the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and asked the Senate to postpone action on the SALT-II nuclear weapons treaty. The Soviet invasion also led to 66 nations, including the U.S., boycotting the Summer Olympics when it was held in Moscow that year (the USSR reciprocated four year later when the Games were held in Los Angeles).
Aside from being a critical turning point in U.S.-Soviet relations, the Soviet invasion of the country known as “the graveyard of empires” would have several unintended consequences.:
- For starters, the war weakened the Soviet Union by undermining the image of an invincible Red Army, encouraging independence movements in Eastern bloc nations in the late 1980s.
- Their retreat also led to a massive civil war within Afghanistan that killed hundreds of thousands and lasted well into the 1990s, with the Taliban taking control in 1996.
- Many of the thousands of non-Afghan mujahideen who went there to fight the Soviets (with lots of American aid in the form of weapons and materiel) would stay to support the new Taliban regime, but most returned to their homelands with their new training and connections to commit terrorist acts.
- From the Russian perspective, though, the most significant impact of the war was on the Soviet Union itself. The high cost of the war in terms of Russian lives and resources led to a loss of confidence in the ruling Communist Party, which was already faltering thanks to reforms brought in by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. On December 26, 1991, the nation formally dissolved into the Commonwealth of Independent States.
First appearing in 1942’s Air Fighters Comics #2, Airboy was created by writers Charles Biro and Dick Wood and artist Al Camy. The son of an expert pilot, Davy Nelson used a special plane invented by his friend to help the Allies in WWII and have many adventures, often involving cleavage-baring Nazis.
In the 1980s, Eclipse resurrected the character… or more precisely, it followed the adventures of the original Airboy’s son, who took up his father’s mantle after his murder to hunt down his killers, while also having all kinds of scuffles with dictators, pirates and corporate crooks.
Add Soviets to that list; in 1988’s Airboy #42, we get the Soviet bad guy Steelfox justify his nation’s invasion of Afghanistan whilst torturing our captured hero. I’ll give Airboy credit; it takes guts to argue politics while tied up like that.