The Me decade marks the end of the “short century” and the transition out of the postwar period or the Cold War into … well, into whatever it is that’s come since.
While Communism and apartheid went out with hair bands, it was Back to the Future with the rise of terrorism, nationalism, and religious extremists. And if the warmest memories of the decade are of divided peoples breaching the walls that separated them, our world today is shaped just as surely by the violent ends meted out to many others.
China’s abortive liberal moment in 1989 was notoriously crushed by tanks. Although the fate of the famous anonymous man who wasn’t crushed is not known, executions for some “rioters” began within weeks of the June 4 crackdown.
The creepy-charismatic sex slayer whose diabolical crime spree from Seattle, Wash., to Gainesville, Fla., made his name synonymous with human brutality, Bundy left his still-unknown body count in the Seventies but his front-page persona while he scrambled to avoid Old Sparky was quintessential Eighties: oleaginous salesmanship, celebrity narcissism, cannibalistic hyperconsumption, and lethal sexuality. He even made time in his very last hours to horn in on the era’s trendy anti-porn racket.
Rivaled by few before or since for the volume, ferocity, and notoriety of his crimes, Bundy arguably remains the name in serial killing — as attested by the 5,000-plus comment thread he’s generated on this site and the new true-crime titles he continues to underwrite.
Shaheedi to their own minds and not a few of their admirers, these unapologetic assassins of India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi retaliated for one notorious anti-Sikh rampage … and triggered a second.
“I am proud to give my life / My one solitary life” wrote the poet, condemned as a terrorist (and not the only one) to worldwide outrage by South Africa’s increasingly desperate white government during the mid-1980s crisis that eventually collapsed apartheid.
The militant Islamic officer turned the page on an epoch of Middle East history by assassinating Nasserite Egyptian President Anwar Sadat after the latter made peace with Israel at Camp David.
This Iranian revolutionary exposed the shocking Iran-contra scandal to a Lebanese magazine, and shook clandestine national security apparatuses all around the globe.
Ultimately, those who had dirtied their hands in this nefarious scheme, from the Nicaraguan bush to the White House to Hezbollah to Tel Aviv to Tehran, walked away with punishments ranging from a slap on the wrist to their name on an airport … but the whistleblower himself was tortured into a televised self-denunciation and his liberal political faction destroyed in Iran.
Patron martyr of the armed conflict for Kashmiri independence that’s been running for decades since his 1984 hanging. The return of Maqbool Bhat’s remains by the India government is still a going demand of Kashmiri separatists.
Had you composed the “10.26 incident” as fiction, no reader would have believed that the head of South Korea’s intelligence agency would have personally shot the country’s dictatorial president at a debaucherous wingding for (in Kim’s words) “democracy of this country.” Even more bizarrely, it kind of worked.
Our top two executions eerily bookend the decade with trends whose symbolic beginning and end were among that era’s defining events.
On January 9, 1980, the Saudi Arabia had over 60 Islamic militants beheaded in several cities around the kingdom.
These men had shockingly seized the sacred Grand Mosque the previous year … and the political price for the Saudi state for profaning that holy place with soldiers to arrest them was an arrangement that immensely strengthened the hand of Wahhabi clerics and directly inspired a young Osama bin Laden.
1989’s stunning collapse of Communist authority across Eastern Europe culminated with the fall of venerable Romanian strongman Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena. Their drumhead Christmas Day, 1989 trial (and resultant bloodied corpses) were captured on video for the ages, and symbolically tied up the decade with just days to spare.
A few other executions to remember the Eighties by…
KGB agent Valery Martynov, one of several U.S. assets betrayed by notorious moles Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen
Cuban Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, supposedly for drug-running
Dead Man Walking inspiration Elmo Patrick Sonnier
Singapore’s Adrian Lim, the white-collar drone turned predatory faith healer
Allegedly — though Iran disputes the fact — the titular sufferer in The Stoning of Soraya M
More historically certain but still opaque in its extent, Iran’s 1988 mass executions of political prisoners by the unnumbered thousands
The last hanging in Poland, an abolition hastened by one of the decade’s more arresting cinematic achievements
The Vice-President of Guinea-Bissau
The former compatriots and co-rulers of the guy who’s still president of Burkina Faso to this day
“Fourteen Days in May” subject (and actual-innocence candidate) Edward Earl Johnson
Spree killer Stephen Morin, converted to evangelical Christianity by his last victim (whom Morin spared)
Nigerian General and poet Mamman Jiya Vatsa
Suriname’s summary December murders
Marxist Grenada President Maurice Bishop, whose overthrow in a Communist intra-party coup offered a pretext for the U.S. to invade
Progressive Sudanese theologian Mahmoud Taha
The first modern Texas execution, which was also the first lethal injection in the U.S.
On this day..
- 1950: The Martyred, at the outset of the Korean War - 2020
- 1999: Eduardo Agbayani, omnishambles execution - 2019
- 1942: Gordon Cummins, the Blackout Ripper - 2018
- 1880: Three juvenile offenders in Canton, Ohio - 2017
- 1942: Evzen Rosicky, athlete - 2016
- 1483: Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers - 2015
- 1646: Jan Creoli, for sodomy in slavery - 2014
- 2003: He Xiuling, Ma Qingxui, Li Juhua and Dai Donggui - 2013
- 1804: Georges Cadoudal, Chouan - 2012
- 1790: Thomas Bird, the first federal execution under the U.S. constitution - 2011
- 1591: Euphane MacCalzean, witch - 2010
- 1579: Hatano Hideharu, en route to the Tokugawa Shogunate - 2009
- 1959: Charles Starkweather, Nebraska spree killer - 2008