The Seventies, or 1970s, similar to the 1960s, is widely celebrated by leftists and liberals as a decade of progress and freedom. In reality, however, it saw Western freedom and civilization demoralized and under the threat of World Communism, but ended with the rebirth of Conservative pride, with the emergence of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan among the great world leaders of the 20th Century.
The early Seventies saw the West demoralized and uncertain. The United States was traumatized by the Watergate affair and America's premature withdrawal from Vietnam led to Communist victories across Indo-China. This feeling of demoralization led to the election in 1976 of President Jimmy Carter, at the time the most liberal of all US presidents. Carter's presidency saw betrayal of US foreign policy: pro-American regimes in Latin America were abandoned, the Panama Canal was abandoned, the fight against Communism in other parts of the world such as Africa was abandoned in favor of a woolly-minded policy of detente towards the USSR (appeasement by another name) and, the pro-Western government and Shah of Iran were abandoned to the forces of Islamofascism, with results which reverberate today. The Iran Hostage Crisis was perhaps the lowest point of American foreign policy in this period.
Britain was becoming "the sick man of Europe", as power seemingly slipped from elected institutions to unelected, and often communist-dominated, trade unions. Strikes became more frequent and damaging to the economy, already under strain due to rising oil costs, the legacy of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The efforts of Edward Heath to control the unions failed when he lost a general election in 1974; the subsequent Labour Party government, led by Harold Wilson and from 1976 by James Callaghan, routinely caved in to union demands.
The Soviet Union built up its influence worldwide, by bribery or subversion, taking advantage of Western liberal decrepitude, it established important bases in Indo-China, the Horn of Africa. It also had influence in Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola. and Mozambique.
Demoralization and disillusionment with political leadership can only go so far before the people stand up. In 1975 Margaret Thatcher replaced the discredited Edward Heath as leader of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. Her tough, trenchant speeches and policies governing domestic and foreign policy swiftly struck a chord with the British people - and further afield. The Soviet media began referring to her as the 'Iron Lady' - intended as an insult, it betrayed their fear of strong Western leadership. In a similar manner, the weak and vacillating policies of Jimmy Carter stirred the American people into finding a proper American leader; and they found one in the person of Ronald Reagan. Although he was only elected after the decade had ended, his presence and personality dominated the final period of the Carter Presidency and set the scene for the years to come.
In China, the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 heralded the end of the catastrophic cultural revolution. The new leadership began the process of economic reform which has led to modern China, while a dictatorship ruled by the Communist Party, nevertheless having achieved economic and material growth unthinkable under a socialist straitjacket. The Chinese people have economic freedom as a result of the changes begun in the 1970s; political and religious freedom will inevitably follow.
On Christmas in 1979 the geriatric leadership of the Soviet Union launched an invasion of Afghanistan. Although they succeeded in occupying the country, this act of aggression was to embroil them in a war of resistance that bled their armed forces white and sparked the process that led to the collapse of the USSR itself and of world Communism.