80 Days That Changed the World
Aired May 11, 2003 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Welcome to our broadcast. I'm Jeff Greenfield.
It began with a premise. Readers wanted and needed a magazine to help them make sense of a world that was moving to fast, growing too complicated. Well, that was in 1923, when most Americans had never heard of radio, television was a futuristic fantasy, and as for a World Wide Web, well.
However simple the world of the 1920s may seem to us, though, a lot of readers liked the notion of Henry Luce's, enough to make "Time" magazine one of publishing's great successes.
The editors of "Time" have chosen to make its 80th anniversary by highlighting 80 days that changed the world, and in the next hour, we will touch on many of those days, and we will single out five of them for special attention. While some of these days are obvious landmarks, others might surprise you but, as you will see, they also changed our lives.
We are going to look first at a day when a single individual became the most powerful force in the movies. But first, a look at some memorable moments from the 1920s.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
GREENFIELD (voice over): The Roaring Twenties, Lucky Lindy, the Babe, "All That Jazz." But of all the changes that swept across America, none was bigger than the once launched by auto industrialist, Henry Ford, when he began the 5 day, 40-hour work week in 1926.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR: Today we very much live just as Henry Ford predicted that we would, in the sense that most people work nine to five, and eight-hour day, five days a week. It's considered the standard rule.
GREENFIELD: All through the late 1920s, American prosperity seemed a fact of life, but on our October Tuesday in 1929, the stock market and the assumption of permanent good times crashed.
DANIEL KADLEC, COLUMNIST, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Did it cause the Depression or not, you know, it's an open question. There was no deposit insurance, so even people who weren't in the stock market, but had money in a savings account, felt that because banks failed..."
GREENFIELD: By the time the Roaring 20s ended, the Great Depression had arrived.
GREENFIELD: Whenever a new medium arrives, it both delights and frightens us with its power. The web, the computer, television all stirred such fears.
When "Time" magazine was new, so were the movies, and for many Americans, those images in the dark were the stuff of nightmares.''
GREENFIELD (voice over): From their first beginnings, moving pictures stirred powerful emotions, including fear. Not just fear of sometimes frightening images, audiences actually leapt out of their seats watching "The Great Train Robbery," but fear of what these images might inspire, especially among the immigrants born into America from Europe. They might not be able to read, write, or speak English, but everyone could understand moving pictures.
Would the Keystone Cops comedies be disrespect for law and order? Would scenes of lust feed lustful passions, as in "Pandora's Box"?
High-minded, high class performers, fresh from imposing Prohibition on the United States, turned their attention to this new entertainment form in the early 1920s, after headline-grabbing Hollywood scandals.
Hollywood responded by hiring Postmaster General Will Hayes, to appease critics.
WILL HAYES, POSTMASTER GENERAL: The Production Code adopted by the motion picture industry is designed to develop and to protect.
GREENFIELD: In 1930, Hayes announced a series of dos and don'ts that came to be known as the Hayes Code. It was, says film historian, Tom Daugherty (ph), a joke.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the next four years, the so-call pre-Code era, classical Hollywood cinema violates all the rules they said they would agree to in 1930.
GREENFIELD: There were scantily clad gold diggers of 1933, W.C. Fields' sometimes bawdy slapstick, and films where evil sometimes triumphed over good, as in, "I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang."
But by 1934, film boycotts by the Catholic Church and the prospect that FDR's New Deal might regulate the movie industry combined to bring Hollywood to its knees. To stave off federal regulation and to save its business, the industry hired Joseph Breen to put teeth into its Production Code, and on July 15, 1934, Breen became the most powerful force in Hollywood's new moral university.
JOSEPH BREEN, THE PRODUCTION CODE ADMINISTRATION: We must be on the look out for scenes or action or dialogue, which are likely to give offense. GREENFIELD: Some of what changed was obvious, no swear words, no nudity, or suggestive clothing. Compare Jane's pre-Code thighs in "Tarzan and His Mate" in 1934 with the Breen-approved version just two years later.
Also missing in action, Betty Boop's garter. And in place of Mae West's bawdy invitation in "She Done Him Wrong," movie goers to "Bright Eyes" were offered a new female screen sensation.
But beyond this, the Code embodied a world where good triumphed, and evil was punished, as in the film, "Angels With Dirty Faces."
Director, Barry Levinson, whose films include "Diner," "Tin Men," and "Wag the Dog," says some directors back then got around the limits.
BARRY LEVINSON, FILM DIRECTOR: If you take "It Happened One Night," you know, they separate one another by the blanket. And in the end of the movie, when the two of them are now married, we don't see the two of them in bed. We just see the blanket fall to the ground.
Well, actually, that's a smarter idea than just showing a husband and wife now in bed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the end of "Casablanca," when Rick says to Ilsa, "We'll always have Paris," I mean, he's not talking about that great Eiffel Tower. All right?
GREENFIELD: And in "Gone With the Wind," Gable carries Vivien Leigh up to their bedroom, and her smile the next morning tells us everything we need to know about what went on.
Still, there was much about American life the Code did not permit to be seen. Black Americans, seen here in "The Sunshine Makers," were shown only as subservient or comically inept figures.
The darker shadows of political conflict or sexual complexity were similarly out. What we did see for the quarter century that the Code reigned, was a moral universe of clear limits of language, dress, behavior, dress, and values.
But by 1960, as American culture was changing, so, too, were the censors. Breen's successors let Alfred Hitchcock portray in "Psycho" a world without a moral order. Whoever heard of a movie where the star suffered a horrifying death in the middle of the movie?
And foreign films, such as "And God Created Woman," were showing Americans more, a whole lot more, of a very different sexual and moral universe.
By the late 1960s, films such as "Bonnie and Clyde" showed that the Code was effectively dead, even though it wasn't formally buried in 1974. But as Barry Levinson reminds us, it's wrong to assume that the end of censorship meant that movies were free from pressures, like the pressure to get a PG-13 rating to maximize box office returns. LEVINSON: The business has become, you know, more and more about that giant weekend, you know, the $40 - $50 million weekend.
GREENFIELD: There is no small irony here. Many in the Hollywood community would guard their freedoms vigorously, and yet, they often cast a nostalgic look back at a much more inhibited Hollywood, of films such as "Casablanca" and "Gone With the Wind" and call it the "Golden Age.
GREENFIELD: When we come back, the 1940s and the birth of a new nation rising from the ashes of war and the Holocaust, carrying the seeds of new conflict.
GREENFIELD (voice over): The world at war, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust. Throughout the first years of the 1940s, the outcome for the battle for freedom hung in the balance. The turning point, June 6, 1944.
JOHN EISENHOWER, WORLD WAR II HISTORIAN: D-Day changed the world critically. The best way to look at it is to contemplate what would have happened. If that failed, we probably would not have another chance during the war to organize another such expedition.
GREENFIELD: That invasion led to victory in Europe, but in the Pacific, victory came with the bomb.
LISA CULLEN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: August 6, 1945, was the day that the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The city was obliterated, 150,000 died instantly, incinerated in the blast.
GREENFIELD: The end of World War II signaled the start of the Atomic Age.
GREENFIELD: When World War II ended, the horror and the guilt over the slaughter of six million Jews helped create the momentum that led to the birth of Israel as a nation. But what happens when the redemption of one people's dream clashes with another's?
GREENFIELD (voice over): The dream of a Jewish homeland was centered here in Palestine, but it actually took root here in the capitals of Europe, some 100 years ago. When the Dreyfus affair exploded, the framing of a Jewish French army officer by powerful anti-Semites, many influential Jews, like Theodore Hertzl, began to ask, is there any land where Jews are safe? Or do we need a homeland of our own? When the rise of Hitler spawned a Holocaust beyond the worst imaginable nightmares, the case for Jewish homeland seemed obvious, but it would be a struggle. For one thing, Jewish settlers, who had begun migrating to Palestine, found themselves in pitched battles with Arabs and with the British military forces in the region.
In 1947, the United Nations stepped in. Despite passionate opposition, it drew up a partition of Palestine, a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. But the Arabs never accepted the partition.
HANAH ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN CITIZEN'S RIGHTS COMMISSION: To me, the partition is not very -- a neutral tone to any Palestinian. It was the taking away of their patrimony, of their heritage and giving it away to others.
GREENFIELD: On May 14, 1948, at the stroke of midnight in Jerusalem, Israel declared its independence. David Ben-Gurion was named head of the provisional government. The very next day, five Arab nations attacked the new state. The first of many lost opportunities for peace in the Middle East had come and gone.
Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist, David Shipler.
DAVID SHIPLER, AUTHOR: There's not question in my mind that you would have not had a war in 1948, you would not have seen hundreds of thousands of Arabs displaced, driven out, becoming refugees. The whole landscape would have been very different, had the Arabs accepted the partition plan.
GREENFIELD: While Israel flourished, hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees, rejected by neighboring Arab states, fed on a dream of conquest and return.
ASHRAWI: No matter where they are, as refugees, they still have not just this abstract yearning or longing, they still have this sense of belonging, that this is their land.
JEFF GOLDBERG, "THE NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE: Every cycle is worse. I mean...
GREENFIELD: Jeff Goldberg covers the Middle East for "The New Yorker" magazine.
When you sit down, as you have, and you have talked to the leaders of Hamas, and you have talked to Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, as well?
What, specifically, do they say should happen?
GOLDBERG: Israel should be destroyed. Israel should ceased to exist as an independent country, and -- and this is one of the formulations that I always find a bit chilling -- the Jews that survive will be allowed to live in Palestine, just as they have always done under Muslim rule.
GREENFIELD: The tensions were not confined to the Middle East. Indeed as the cold war continued, they became a central issue in that global confrontation. The Soviet Union increasingly identified itself with the Arab cause, while the United States became Israel's ally, a fact that made the U.S. increasingly suspect in Arab eyes.
Repeatedly, Israel's Arab neighbors sought to overrun it. Repeatedly, Israel prevailed. In 1967, the Six Day War ended with Israel in complete control of Jerusalem, a city sacred to three faiths, and in control of the West Bank and Gaza. But,
SHIPLER: But look what it saddled the Israelis with, a large Palestinian population under occupation, a generation, or two almost now, of deepening rage.
GREENFIELD: Ever since that time, it has been possible to see the whole Middle East story as a never ending series of hopeful signs wiped out by new spasms of violence. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 was followed by Egyptian President Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977 and the Camp David Accords a year later, only to be followed by Sadat's assassination, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The Oslo Accords of 1993 were followed by the assassination Rabin. Talks at Camp David in 2000 raised the specter of a lasting peace.
SHIPLER: Both sides were so close to an agreement that hope had really begun to put down roots, and the dashing of that hope was very, very damaging to both peoples.
GREENFIELD: So damaging that wave after wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, followed each and every time by Israeli reprisals, result today in a growing pessimism, even among the most peace minded of Arabs and Israelis.
GOLDBERG: You are talking about two peoples who have really justifiable arguments, and you know, when people know they are right, it is not going to be so easy to make those crucial compromises that would allow them to live together.
GREENFIELD: That stalemate, which has lasted on and off for more than half a century now, still inflames tensions throughout the world. Today, whether the issue is deadly assaults on American interests or the fear of war, the Israeli-Palestinian connection will sooner or later emerge.
So, at a time when optimism is in such short supply, we turn to Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has spent his life in the fight for peace, human rights, and simple human decency.
We walked with him in Fez, Morocco, a region where for seven centuries, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in peace.
ELIE WIESEL, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) God created Adam, and Adam was neither Jewish nor Christian nor Muslim. He was simply a human being. We all had the same grandfather and grandmother. When you start thinking in these terms, then you become humble, but what we need is a little bit of humility.
(END VIDEOTAPE) GREENFIELD: When we come back, the 1960s and the story of a revolution in the bedroom and beyond, thanks to a little pill.
GREENFIELD: The 1950s, Elvis, hula hoops, television. Beneath those images of innocence was a harsher reality of the 1950s, state- mandated segregation, a system that began to crumble when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE MCWHORRER, AUTHOR: So, Rosa Parks was taken to jail. She was tried, and there was this great outrage, and almost the entire black population stayed off the bus. This was really the beginning of what we think of as the modern civil rights movement because it became a mass movement for the first time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: Here's a headline that might make you turn the page without a second glance, federal agency approves new pill, but when the pill in question is "the pill," when it potentially gives every woman power that she has never had before, well, that's a very different story.
GREENFIELD (voice over): "Be fruitful and multiply," the Bible says, and as America grew into a world power in the early Twentieth Century, the large family seemed a symbol of the nation's growth. But for millions of women, the specter of pregnancy after pregnancy was often a threat to their well being, to their health, even to their lives.
In 1916, the nation's first family planning clinic was opened in Brooklyn, New York, by this woman, Margaret Sanger. During the next five decades, Sanger fought for a safe, effective method of birth control. In the face of strong opposition from the Catholic Church and in the face of laws that made such devices, and even talking about them, illegal.
Sanger also raised money, millions, to help find such a method.
By the late 1950s, Drs. Gregory Pincus and John Rock, working out of a clinic in Massachusetts, had come up with Enovid 10, a synthetic hormone that suppressed the release of eggs from a woman's ovaries. Initial success with small trials was followed by a large- scale human trial in Puerto Rico, and on May 9, 1960, the Food and Drug Administration approved the pill as safe for birth control use.
That news didn't make front page headlines, but it was, in fact, a little short of a revolution.
GLORIA FELDT, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: I'll take you to 1962. I had just had my third child. I was 20 years old. The pill saved my life. It freed me from the constant fear of constant pregnancy.
GREENFIELD: For Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, and for countless other women, the pill meant freedom to plan a life.
FELDT: To have a career, to be a better mother to the children that I had, and my experience was replicated millions and millions of time.
GREENFIELD: Perhaps it's just coincidence, but in the years following the pill, a new feminist movement sprang into existence. The workplace changed. By 2000, 55 percent of mothers with infant children held down full-time jobs. The professions changed. Forty- nine percent of law school and 45 percent of medical school students are women. Change came, as well, to the U.S. Senate, to the Supreme Court, and corporate board rooms.
But not everyone approved. In July, 1968, Pope Paul VI refused to give the Church's sanction to the pill. And its early days, high dosages of hormones may have posed a serious health risk to some women, a risk now much reduced by far lower doses.
But what about the social consequences? The fact that women, like men, are able to separate sex from pregnancy? Critics like Danielle Crittenden have written that many women are having serious second thoughts about the sexual freedom that the pill made possible.
We were supposed to feel really empowered by being able to say yes, and, in fact, you don't feel so powerful after a one-night stand. You don't feel so powerful when you're 28 and you've had a series of boyfriends and it's amounted to nothing. In a sense, she was less empowered after the pill came in because she no longer had a reason to say no to a man, except that, I don't want to, but women are often, you know, they don't want to say that.
FELDT: But I think it made sex, in a way, more significant because it forced both men and women to be thoughtful and gave both men and women the tools with which to make choices.
GREENFIELD: Today, some 43 years after the pill was first brought to market, more than 100 million women around the world take it. In developing countries, about 40 percent of married women, who have used family planning, have chosen the pill. And experts, who once predicted the world population would hit 10.7 billion by year 2050, have now scaled those estimates down to about 8.9 billion. That means that decades from now, the pill will still, literally, be changing the world.
GREENFIELD: When we come back, a third-rate burglary and the fall of a president.
GREENFIELD (voice over): The 1960s, and for those who lived through it, four days in November, 1963, seared into our memories.
NELLIE CONNALLY, WIFE OF FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, JOHN CONNALLY: I remember all three shots. The President took the first hit. His hands flew up to his neck, and I had turned back when I heard the noise saw him slump down in the chair.
JACK VALENTI, CHAIRMAN, MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION, AND FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL ASSISTANT: No president had bee assassinated in this country since 1901. This gallant, urbane and witty and very popular president was -- and a senseless act and mindless malice had an overpowering effect on the country.
GREENFIELD: In 1963, America was a nation in mourning. Soon to come, upheaval across the political and cultural landscape.
But there were also great achievements. In 1969, millions around the world watched as Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.
BRINKLEY: It was very scary when they landed because they only had about 15 seconds left of fuel when they finally put it down, and everybody breathed a sigh of relief, and then over that crackled radio, you heard Armstrong, and there was this sort of frozen moment when the whole world is watching, and Neil Armstrong climbs down the ladder and puts his foot on the moon's surface and says, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
It's probably the single-most remembered line of the entire 20th century, and it may be the most known line in all of human history.
GREENFIELD: It was, in large measure, a reaction to the upheaval of the 1960s that put Richard Nixon into the White House, capping one of the unlikeliest comebacks in American political history. This was, after all, the same Richard Nixon who had offered a bitter farewell to the public and the press after losing a governor's race just six years earlier.
But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was wrong to Nixon's promise of law and order and to his reaffirmation of traditional values, and by the time reelection rolled around, it seemed like clear sailing.
GREENFIELD (voice over): For President Richard Nixon, 1972 was shaping up as a dream year, a groundbreaking visit to Communist China, a summit in Moscow, and a new thaw in the cold war, and a Democratic Party that was splitting apart over the likely nomination of peace candidate, George McGovern.
So, on June 17, when five men with electronic bugging gear and burglar tools were arrested in the middle of the night breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Office complex, well, the story seemed pretty much what White House press secretary, Ron Zeigler, called it, "a third-rate burglary."
And even after months of reporting by two young "Washington Post" reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the nation seemed indifferent to possible White House ties to the burglars. With Nixon's landslide re-election, Watergate seemed an odd political footnote.
But on March 23, 1973, the footnote became a headline. Watergate burglar, James McCord, wrote a letter to Judge John Sirica, charging that political pressure had forced his silence. And the Nixon White House was suddenly under siege.
Within months, a seven-member Senate committee was investigating Watergate, led by North Carolina's Sam Ervin, who projected a folksy, down home manner, and Republican Howard Baker, whose question became a Watergate catch phrase, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"
President Nixon went on television to announce the resignation of his two top aides, H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman, as well as the attorney generals. He denied knowledge of the break in or a cover up and pointed the finger of blame at his fired counsel, John Dean.
But that June, John Dean turned the tables on the President.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO RICHARD NIXON: I began by telling the President that there was a cancer growing on the presidency.
GREENFIELD: Veteran political journalist, Sander Vanocur.
SANDER VANOCUR, POLITICAL JOURNALIST: It was a marvelous story. We had never seen anything like this before, and each day, you would say, it cant get any worse, and each day, it got worse.
But even with massive media coverage of hearings and resignations and criminal indictments, few could imagine where the story would ultimately end. Fred Thompson was counsel to the committee Republicans.
(on camera): Let me take you back to 1973. What were your assumptions about had happened?
FRED THOMPSON, FORMER REPUBLICAN COUNSEL: It didn't seem to me like it was all that serious, that is probably more of a political issue than it was a legal one, and that it would take a couple of three months. It was a gradual revelation more than it was a dramatic event up until the time of the taping system.
July 16, just after the lunch recess, Fred Thompson quizzes former White House aid, Alexander Butterfield, and for the Nixon presidency, it is the beginning of the end.
THOMPSON: Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?
ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I was aware of listening devices, yes, sir.
THOMPSON: There's not many Perry Mason moments in those senatorial hearings. In fact, I don't recall one since that there was one.
GREENFIELD (voice-over): Now, it was no longer a he said, he said debate. Now there was proof one way or the other. But Nixon refused to release the tapes, firing Special Counsel Archibald Cox, then releasing selected excerpts, taking his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, even as the House Judiciary Committee was passing three articles of impeachment with six Republicans joining all the Democrats.
In the end, when a unanimous Supreme Court ordered the tapes released, they showed that Nixon had been in on the cover up from the beginning.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body.
GREENFIELD: And Richard Nixon became the first president ever to resign his office.
NIXON: We don't have a good word for it in English. The best is, "au revoir."
GREENFIELD: What of Watergate's legacy? Democrats benefited in the short run, but it also helped deepen the mistrust of government, a core theme of conservatives like Ronald Regan. It made the press, and the public at large, assume the worst about its public officials. The earlier cynicism that had begun with Vietnam only deepened.
VANOCUR: I think Watergate injected a certain venomous quality into the political bloodstream of this country, and we have not detoxified it yet, and maybe we never will in my lifetime.
THOMPSON: I think the era of the bipartisan Congressional investigation is over.
GREENFIELD: On August 9, 1974, as Richard Nixon boarded that helicopter for his journey into exile, the air was filled with self- congratulation. The system worked. The free press triumphed. The nation would be healed. Now, 30 years later, that healing has left behind a number of deep scars.
GREENFIELD: When we return, the sudden, startling collapse of a wall and the super power that collapsed with it.
GREENFIELD (voice over): 1975, the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War, a chaotic and desperate image for a nation already reeling from Watergate and from the resignation of a president.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I remember very well seeing the pictures of the fall of Saigon. One was the tank hitting the gate and driving right into the presidential palace. The other probably, in many ways much more poignant, was the lines of people going to the top of the U.S. Embassy, scrambling to escape in the last hours before Saigon fell.
GREENFIELD: And from the morass of Vietnam came lessons America still grapples with today.
MCCAIN: We have to understand that the American people will not support a conflict, for which they do not understand and they do not see a final goal.
GREENFIELD: After the fall of Vietnam, the first American defeat ever in a war, doubt was a growing theme among some thinkers and writers. Was the United States in decline? Is the Soviet Union going to expand its power and influence around the world?
But in fact, it was the Soviet Union that was growing weaker, and economic basket case, increasingly unable to stem the rebellion within its own empire. Its new dynamic leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, knew change had to come, but no one could foresee what was coming.
GREENFIELD (voice over): From the beginnings of the Cold War, Berlin was the symbol of the divide between East and West. It was where Stalin tried to drive the West out with a blockade in 1948, a blockade broken by the Berlin airlift.
It was where citizens of the Soviet satellite first rose up in 1953 to be crushed by Soviet troops, and it was where Soviet Premier Khrushchev, fresh from a summit with the new American President Kennedy, made an audacious stand to stop the flood of refugees from east to west.
On August 13, 1961, a wall began rising in Berlin, a literal version of Churchill's famous iron curtain. And those who dared to breach that curtain, literally, risked their lives.
It drew American presidents, from Kennedy to Regan, but, in fact, Mikhail Gorbachev, the fourth Soviet leader in almost as many years, was a man who had, in one sense, begun to realize that what the wall stood for could no longer stand.
Career diplomat, Jack Matlock, was U.S. Ambassador to Moscow during the Gorbachev years. JACK MATLOCK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOSCOW: He started going around to the east European leaders and informing them -- this was really a year before it happened -- you have got to reform, too. What he didn't understand was they couldn't.
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER SOVIET LEADER (through translator): I told them that they were responsible for the situation in their own countries. You decide what reforms you need. We need perestroika, whether you need perestroika is up to you.
GREENFIELD: By 1989, the cracks were growing wider. In Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, where Soviet troops had crushed earlier rebellions, new reform governments were coming to power, and those governments were welcoming East Germans across their borders.
MATLOCK: The Hungarians were the first to break and, in effect, tell Honecker and the East Germans, you know, we're not going to carry your water for you anymore. We are going to let these people go.
GREENFIELD: And when Gorbachev visited East Berlin...
MATLOCK: They were shouting Gorbi, Gorbi, Gorbi, Gorbi! This had a tremendous effect on Gorbachev. This made him all the more determined that these guys have got to go.
But he couldn't kick them out himself, but it could certainly let it be known, and the word got out, if you guys want to throw them out, we're not going to come in with our tanks again and save them.
GREENFIELD: In November, 1989, it all came crumbling down. Serge Schmemann, covering Berlin for "The New York Times," remembers how he got the news.
SERGE SCHMEMANN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I was in my hotel room filing when, suddenly, my assistant from East Berlin, who had never been west, came, and he said, people are pouring through the wall, and we went back, and by then, one of the greatest parties of all time was in full swing.
GREENFIELD: Within days, thousands of citizens were taking sledgehammers and chisels to the wall. And what was falling was not simply a wall, but a political system. Gorbachev, who had begun the reforms, could not foresee that they would lead to the complete collapse of that system.
MATLOCK: And I sent my first message, which was top secret, to Washington in June, 1990, saying, the United States should prepare for the contingency that the Soviet Union will collapse.
SCHMEMANN: All of us who were there quickly realized that there was nothing except fear propping it up, and as soon as that fear was gone, it had nothing to offer.
GREENFIELD: Within weeks of the fall, Bulgaria's communist leader quit. Rumanian dictator, Ceausescu, was seized and killed by a firing squad. And the Soviet Union itself was crumbling. The Baltic states, Lithuania, then Latvia, and then Estonia were declaring their independence.
For the true believers in Moscow, it was all too much. Gorbachev, they decided, must go. But when Boris Yeltsin, then Moscow's mayor, rallied citizens and soldiers to Gorbachev's side, the coup collapsed, and it was Yeltsin who orchestrated the final acts, outlawing the Communist Party and ending the Soviet Union.
By December, 1991, Serge Schmemann was reporting from Moscow for "The New York Times."
SCHMEMANN: On Christmas eve, when my family went out to Red Square in the evening just for a walk, then my wife called me and said, they just lowered the flag, and I could hear my kids cheering, and I looked, and it was 7:32 p.m., when she said the flag is going down, and now a Russian flag is coming up.
GREENFIELD: Maybe it was your writing, your piece. It was almost written like an obituary.
SCHMEMANN: Yes. An obituary for communism and really treated it as this very ambitious and ultimately great failure.
GREENFIELD (voice over): The 1990s, America's economy surged. The stock market hit new heights, and technology brought the world at our finger tips through the world wide web.
TIM BERNERS-LEE, FOUNDER, WORLD WIDE WEB: If I had to pick one thing, I would say, if you tap some people's imaginations and their hopes and dreams about how they can work together. In fact, if they grew like that, we could change the world, and that unplanned, chaotic way, I think, is really special.
GREENFIELD: As the 1990 grew to a close, peace and prosperity seemed permanent facts of life, or so we thought.
September 11, 2001. It is not only the twin towers that collapsed. So did our most basic assumptions about the world of the early Twenty-First Century. The richest, most powerful nation ever has learned it is not invulnerable.
GREENFIELD: That awful day was a dreadful reminder that no generation is exempt from history. We may think for a while that we have reached a safe haven, but time after time, the world has a way of bringing such illusions to a sudden end.
And does that mean we can take no comfort from what has happened in the last 80 years? Hardly. Hundreds of millions of us live under freedom. Two of the more malevolent movements of the Twentieth Century are no more. And there is this. If we human begins can learn to stop seeing each other as enemies, there is an honest to God chance of a world where hunger, needless suffering, and stunted lives are themselves receding memories.
What a joy it would be if the next 80 days that changed the world could be filled with those stories.
I'm Jeff Greenfield for all of us at CNN. Thank you for watching.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com