Every new year is met with great hopes and expectations, and is duly celebrated all over the world. Entering a new millennium, however, is a mind-boggling experience; a stark reminder of the resilience of the human race as well as its vulnerability, inspiring feelings of both awe and fear.
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On New Year’s Eve 1999, airports around the world were unusually quiet. People feared everything from a breakdown in the global air traffic control system to terrorism. But the new millennium arrived without any ado. Unfortunately, this peaceful beginning did not foreshadow peaceful times to come.
On 9 September 2001, the world sat shocked in front of their TVs and watched as hijackers crashed two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon, while a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. All in all, nearly 3,000 innocent people died in these terrorist attacks that came to have a profound effect on both America and the rest of the world. Watch this 9/11 timeline (4:54 min).
President George W. Bush, who had won the presidential election of 2000 by only 537 votes, launched and led the War on Terror; an international, military campaign against terrorism. In
October 2001, the US, the UK and their allies invaded Afghanistan, who they accused of hiding those responsible for the 9/11 attacks; the leaders of al-Qaeda; in particular Osama bin Laden. A year later, the US convinced some of their allies that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and therefore constituted a serious threat to the world. The Iraq War began in March 2003, with the intention of disarming the country and removing their long-time leader, Saddam Hussein, from power.
These first years of the millennium have also been characterized by a number of natural disasters all over the world, increasingly believed to be a result of man-made climate changes. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, the largest natural disaster in the history of the United States, took almost 1,500 lives and left the city of New Orleans in ruins. It also had a devastating effect on the lives of the thousands of people who lost their homes and everything they owned. Americans criticized their government for a scandalously late and inefficient response to the disaster. Al Gore’s award winning documentary about global warming and its effects, An Inconvenient Truth, premiered less than a year later. The message of the documentary was deemed of such immense importance that Gore was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to the struggle against climate change.
2007 also brought a global economic crisis that lasted until 2009. In the US, millions of people lost their jobs, their savings and their homes. Businesses went bankrupt, and it became clear that the government would have to intervene to prevent major banks from doing the same. A government appointed commission concluded that the crisis could have been avoided and that it had been caused by, among other things, insufficient financial regulation and corporate leadership, along with unethical practices at all levels of corporate America.
This was the situation during the epoch-making 2008 presidential election, when Barack Obama became the first African American president of the United States. President Obama became a symbol of hope and change in America.
International opinion of the United States has changed over the years. Although it is the world’s only superpower, the rest of the world is no longer willing to accept the US in the role of “world police”. The “American Century” is over. Still, the US is an enormous political and economic power, and their decisions regarding how to use this power touches the lives of people all over the world. Therefore, the international community eagerly follows American presidential elections; and most nations were quite satisfied when President Obama was sworn in for his second term as President of the United States in January 2013.
Tasks and Activities
Make a Televison Show
Divide the class into groups of three to five. Imagine that each group is a television news team. Your assignment is to put together a show summing up the events of the past decade after 2012: national affairs, international affairs, climate development and the entertainment world. The show is to be aired on January 1st, 2020. You can choose whether you want to film your show or present it live to the class. But remember: live presentations require practice!
Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Hurt Locker
An Inconvenient Truth
More film recommendations here.
Challenges for the US in the 21st Century.
Past Exam Questions Related to This Topic
Exam Spring 2012 (Task 2, Short answer)
Read the text [...] below. Based on the quotes and the information [...], write two or three paragraphs in which you reflect on the conflict between safety and liberty.
The American debate on civil liberties
After 9/11, the United States has introduced new laws such as the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act that give the police extended rights to use surveillance and arrest citizens. Some Americans feel this is necessary for their safety and protection while others see it as a threat to their civil liberties and human rights.
"It's an important tool for us to continue dealing with an on-going terrorist threat."
Barack Obama (2011) commenting on the Patriot Act
"They who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Benjamin Franklin (1775) commenting on the value of liberty
Exam Fall 2010
- American presidents are judged very much by what they accomplish in their first two years in office, which is the half-way point in their appointed term. At the time of this examination there have just been elections for the Senate and the House of
Representatives. Write an essay in which you discuss the state of American politics today and look at President Obama’s record so far. [...]
- The growing toll of British, American and civilian casualties in international conflicts, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has left many critics questioning the justification of foreign military intervention. Write an essay in which you discuss the issue of foreign military intervention and give your own view on British and/or American military involvement in foreign countries.
“Here is the truth: Fighting a war without end will not force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. And fighting in a war without end will not make the American people safer. So when I am Commander-in-Chief, I will set a new goal on day one: I will end this war. Not because politics compels it. Not because our troops cannot bear the burden -- as heavy as it is. But because it is the right thing to do for our national security, and it will ultimately make us safer.”
Barack Obama, Clinton, Fayetteville, North Carolina. 19.03.2008.
Last month, at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, a crowd member asked McCain about a Bush statement that troops could stay in Iraq for 50 years. "Maybe 100," McCain replied. "As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, it's fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day."
Write a text in which you discuss the reasons for America’s military involvement in Iraq, and whether Obama’s or McCain’s approach is the best proposal for a future American foreign policy.