On September 27, 1989, the iconic song by Billy Joel,  We Didn’t Start the Fire hit the airwaves.  It was a history lesson set to music.  When you first heard the song, did you know or remember all the people places, things and events mentioned in the lyrics?  I sure didn’t.  Back in 1989 before the internet was something everyone had access to, my boyfriend (now husband) and I headed to the local public library and looked up all the historical references.  This month, for the A to Z Challenge, I am writing about that history.

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
Today is brought to you by the letter H.

1951 – H-bomb

On May 12, the United States detonated a hydrogen bomb on an island in the Pacific. The hydrogen bomb is many times more powerful than an atomic bomb. The Russian development of an A–bomb convinced the US to proceed with development of the H–bomb.

On Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the United States, on May 12th, 1951, detonated the first hydrogen bomb. The bomb was based on the combination of a nuclei of heavy hydrogen, called deuterium, and the process of fission.

1959 – Hula hoops

Billy Joel included the hula-hoop for the 1959 segment of his song because that was the year it reached 100 million in sales.  It was patented March 5, 1963 after, this hip-swiveling toy that became a huge fad across America after it was first marketed by Wham-O in 1958.  The company’s co-founder was Arthur “Spud” Melin. An estimated 25 million Hula-Hoops were sold in its first four months of production alone. In 1948, friends Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr founded a company in California to sell a slingshot they created to shoot meat up to falcons they used for hunting. The company’s name, Wham-O, came from the sound the slingshots supposedly made. Wham-O eventually branched out from slingshots, selling boomerangs and other sporting goods. Its first hit toy, a flying plastic disc known as the Frisbee, debuted in 1957. The Frisbee was originally marketed under a different name, the Pluto Platter, in an effort to capitalize on America’s fascination with UFOs.   Melina and Knerr were inspired to develop the Hula-Hoop after they saw a wooden hoop that Australian children twirled around their waists during gym class. Wham-O began producing a plastic version of the hoop, dubbed “Hula” after the hip-gyrating Hawaiian dance of the same name, and demonstrating it on Southern California playgrounds. Hula-Hoop mania took off from there.  The enormous popularity of the Hula-Hoop was short-lived and within a matter of months, the masses were on to the next big thing. However, the Hula-Hoop never faded away completely and still has its fans today. According to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, in April 2004, a performer at the Big Apple Circus in Boston simultaneously spun 100 hoops around her body. Earlier that same year, in January, according to the Guinness World Records, two people in Tokyo, Japan, managed to spin the world’s largest hoop–at 13 feet, 4 inches–around their waists at least three times each.

1961 – Hemingway

On July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway was found dead of a shotgun wound in the head at his home here today. His wife, Mary, said that he had killed himself accidentally while cleaning the weapon. Hemingway’s obituary ran on the front page of The New York Times on July 3, 1961.   Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. Additional works, including three novels, four short story collections, and three non-fiction works, were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.
Ernest Hemingway commits suicide on July 2 after a long battle with depression.

Ernest Hemingway commits suicide on July 2 after a long battle with depression.

1965 – Ho Chi Minh

This year marks the United States first major entrance into the war in Vietnam.  Operation Rolling Thunder started which was the title of a gradual and sustained aerial bombardment campaign conducted by the U.S. 2nd Air Division (later Seventh Air Force), U.S. Navy, and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) from 2 March 1965 until 2 November 1968.  This included the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line from North Vietnam to the Vietcong rebels in the south.

The Hồ Chí Minh trail was a logistical system that ran from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) through the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. The system provided support, in the form of manpower and materiel, to the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (called the Vietcong or “VC” by its opponents) and the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), or North Vietnamese Army, during the Vietnam War.  It was named by the Americans after North Vietnamese president Hồ Chí Minh. According to the United States National Security Agency’s official history of the war, the Trail system was “one of the great achievements of military engineering of the 20th century.”

Ho Chi Minh: A Vietnamese communist, who served as President of Vietnam from 1954–1969. March 2 Operation Rolling Thunder begins bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line from North Vietnam to the Vietcong rebels in the south. On March 8, the first U.S. combat troops, 3,500 marines, land in South Vietnam.

1983 – Heavy Metal Suicide
 In the 1970s and 80s, heavy metal bands became popular. Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest in particular were sued for fans’ suicides after listening to their songs “Suicide Solution” and “Better By You, Better Than Me”, respectively.
Heavy metal suicide: In the 1980s Ozzy Osbourne and the bands Judas Priest and Metallica were brought to court by parents who accused the musicians of hiding subliminal pro-suicide messages in their music.

Heavy metal suicide: In the 1980s Ozzy Osbourne and the bands Judas Priest and Metallica were brought to court by parents who accused the musicians of hiding subliminal pro-suicide messages in their music.

1983 –Homeless Vets

According to federal law, the United States’ military involvement in the Vietnam War began in February 1961 and lasted until May 1975 (Over 14 years). Approximately 2.7 million American men and women served in Vietnam. During the war, more than 58,000 servicemen and women lost their lives.  Vietnam Veterans represent the largest cohort of American Veterans in terms of service era.  It goes unsaid that this large population had been exposed to war in general and conditions such as that during the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used more than 19 million gallons of various herbicides for defoliation and crop destruction in the Republic of Vietnam. Veterans who served in Vietnam anytime during the period beginning Jan. 9, 1962, and ending May 7, 1975, are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides (Agent Orange).  Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the only national Vietnam veterans organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families was established in 1979 so it is likely that Billy Joel is referring to research conducted by this organization that indicated that there is a growing number of homeless veterans from the Vietnam War.

Homeless vets: Veterans of the Vietnam War, including many disabled ex-military, are reported to be left homeless and impoverished.

Homeless vets: Veterans of the Vietnam War, including many disabled ex-military, are reported to be left homeless and impoverished.

1988 – Hypodermics on the shores

I remember this well.  In 1988, the fear of AIDS was very high including that it could be contracted from shared needles.  When needles began washing up on the beaches, people who had little chance of exposure previously visited the beaches in fear.  Known as the Syringe Tide, it was an environmental disaster during 1987-88 in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York where significant amounts of medical waste, including hypodermic syringes, and raw garbage washed up onto beaches on the Jersey Shore, in New York City, and on Long Island. This forced the closing of beaches on the Atlantic coast. Officials scrambled to identify the source of the material as some local economies struggled with diminished tourism.

Hypodermics on the shore: Medical waste was found washed up on beaches in New Jersey after being illegally dumped at sea. Before this event, waste dumped in the oceans was an “out of sight, out of mind” affair. This has been cited as one of the crucial turning points in popular opinion on environmentalism.


10 responses »

  1. Denise says:

    I had a hula hoop and never got the hang of it. I would have been better off with a pet rock.


  2. Arlee Bird says:

    Hydrogen bombs and the nuclear age was probably the turning point of the 20th century and has influenced all that has come after their development. I was born into the Atomic Age and the power of the weapons has fascinated me throughout my life. It’s almost a wonder another hasn’t been used in warfare and I’d fully expect to see some type of these bombs to be detonated in the not too distant future. It’s a threat that hangs over the world.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


  3. What a great A to Z theme! I will be back now that I’ve found you. I am engaged to a Vietnam Vet (yes, we found love late in life!) and I know that war, Agent Orange or no, left marks still felt today.

    Harry Potter


  4. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan says:

    A great song! When I turn fifty, I plan to rewrite the lyrics of this song to cover events from my birth onward.

    Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, Science Fiction/Fantasy Author


  5. Birgit says:

    This is just showing how much information is i n the one song. The Vietnam Vets is what touched me the most. I thought Hemmingway had cancer so he opted for suicide reather than a slower death that cancer can bring in.


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