The 1990s changed everything. The decade established the social, political and economic foundations on which the 21st century functioned. From the collapse of the Soviet Union to the trial of O.J. Simpson, the period heightened simmering tensions both within the United States and beyond. It set the stage for some of the most calamitous events of the coming century. While the catastrophic consequences of the Cold War were momentarily averted by the fall of an the Soviet Empire, the decade also gave rise to the First Gulf War, a battle that would later prompt the most drawn-out conflict involving the United States. The decade was controversial. Though some argue the economic boom rendered these years the most profitable in American history, others claim it was only a deception of prosperity whose value was undermined in light of the Great Recession that would follow only a few years later. All in all, the decade was a time of change, a period that would irrevocably alter the path of humankind.

Though the start of the decade was characterized by a brief economic recession, the 1990s predominantly bestowed upon the United States a boom in economic growth, an average of 4 percent per year from 1992 to 1999. It was the first time the nation was accorded such strong economic growth in a prolonged period of time since the 1960s. The age of financial prosperity was encouraged by the implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) which eliminated barriers between the United States, Canada, and Mexico regarding trade and investment.

Expansion of the job market — an average of 1.7 million jobs were added to the work force — was vital to the period of growing affluence experienced by the nation as well. The unemployment rate fell to 4 percent by the end of the decade and the surge in the stock market prompted their worth to rise astronomically- even quadruple in value. The Dow Jones industrial average itself rose nearly 309 percent. However, the age also encompassed a period of rising inequality that continues to afflict the nation. The top 1 percent of US income share rose to approximately 16.5 percent by the end of the decade. It did, arguably, signify the economic downfall of the nation.

The end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union by 1991- while perhaps postponing nuclear warfare between the USA and the USSR that could have ensued-gave rise to a more pressing complication. Following the empire’s fall, the West grew increasingly anxious regarding the thousands of nuclear weapons previously in the hands of the USSR. “When the Soviet Union collapsed, the nature of the nuclear threat changed,” Stanford engineering professor Siegfried Hecker said. “The threat before was one of mutual annihilation, but now the threat changed to what would happen if nuclear assets were lost, stolen or somehow evaded the control of the government.” The United States and Russia cooperated to secure missing nuclear material, passing legislation such as the Nunn-Lager Cooperative Threat Reduction, which provided funding for efforts to contain loose nuclear material.

Around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s attempted invasion of Kuwait prompted the First Gulf War. In response, the United Nations Security Council demanded that he withdraw from Kuwait by mid-January 1991, an order that Hussein dismissed as he plunged forward with his invasion. After 42 days of relentless attacks both on ground and by the massive U.S. air offensive Operation Desert Storm, a ceasefire was declared by President Bush, ending the war. Though seemingly ephemeral, the simmering tensions kindled by the conflict would later lead to a more devastating and prolonged battle- the Iraq War.

Only a few years later, the United States was confronted with a murder case that would engender a storm of controversy and deepen racial divides in the nation. In 1995, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the deaths of Nicole Simpson, his ex-wife, and her friend, Ron Goldman, in a trial that riveted the nation. The trial brought police brutality and the nation’s bitter divisions based on race on stark display. Though O.J. Simpson is now serving a prison sentence, the deepening of racial divides precipitated by the trial endure into the present.

The 1990s, in some aspects, crossed mountains in the fight for gender equality. In 1992, Mae Jemison boarded the NASA’s Endeavor and became the first female African American to travel into space. Her task included being a science mission specialist on the eight-day joint mission with Japan. Today, she runs her own tech company and continues to promote mathematics and science-related careers for women and minorities.

In 1997, Madeleine Albright was sworn as the sixty-fourth secretary of state, the first woman to do so. Born in Prague, Albright also served as a U.N. ambassador for the United States.

Just a year following her confirmed nomination, the Lewinskey Scandal erupted, an American political sex scandal involving President Bill Clinton and White House intern, Monica Lewinskey. Further investigation resulted in charges of perjury and obstruction of justice against Clinton and lead to his eventual impeachment. He was the second United States President ever to be impeached. His presidency was just one of the significant events characterizing the 1990s that would forever change the social structure of society and the path of humankind as a whole.

The 1990s were an essential slice of American history that forever altered not only our nation, but the world itself.

From political turmoil to economic prosperity, the 1990s were certainly memorable, a time that lay the foundation for a new order of society that would emerge in the 21st century. The 1990s were an essential slice of American history that forever altered not only our nation, but the world itself.

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