TIME's Person of the Year 1927-2009

From Time Magazine, here’s an interactive of all of their Person of the year selections from 1927 to 2009. Click on the image above and you can select each person to read the article from source.

TIME started this shtick in 1927 when they first chose Charles Lindbergh as their Man of the Year for his achievement of the first solo non-stop trans-atlantic flight, supposedly as a way of making up at the end of the year for not having him on the cover when the flight occured. They caught up with the times (no pun intended) of political correctness and changed the title to Person of the Year in 1999, though the total number of women they bestowed this honor to through all these years is a whopping 5 excluding the colletive “You” that they made Person of the Year in 1999 when someone in their offices got really lazy and decided to throw us all masses a bone for our “user contributions” to social and public sites such as wikipedia, Youtube and other internet social, knowledge and information outlets.

A quick count gives me 51 Americans in the list to date, with every serving American President since 1930 making the list at least once. George W made it not once, but twice, and heck.. Newt Gingrich was selected in 1995 for becoming the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years

TIME's view of the world atlas

proving once again that even for the most erudite journos of this land, the “world” for the most part stretches only from the shores of California to the beaches of Maine. Nevertheless, they are very well written articles and provide quite an interesting look into history, even if you feel like you are looking through red, white and blue colored glasses.

By looking at those characters, if you are wondering what TIME considers its criteria is for these selections, here’s a brief explanation from them.

TIME’s Person of the Year is the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.

So, it doesn’t mean the person has to be a heroic figure, a major philanthropist or a Nobel Laureate, it only means he or she had to have been “in the news” through out the year, affect our lives for good or bad, and prove to be important positively or negatively. Hence the selection of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, a villain to the west.. and you wonder if it is also the reason why Vladimir Putin made it in 2007. Surely, he wasn’t

Gorbachev - Twice Man of the Year and Man of the decade.. just don't mention that to the Russians now.

Khomeini - Man of the Year in 1979

selected for the same reason Gorbachov was picked in 1987 and again in 1989, the second time as the person of the decade! I mentioned this to my Russian friend and he cussed out some obscenities I’d rather not type.. but if there isn’t enough validation for so many of the Russians now who loath Gorbachev for being the puppet of the west in their perception, him getting this accolade (if you can call it that) twice, is proof positive. Going back a few decades, TIMES seleced another Soviet leader twice for Man of the Year – Josepth Stalin in 1942 and earlier in 1939. An year earliers, in 1938 TIME selected none other than Adolph Hitler! Just read through that article on Hitler and then come back to 2007 and read the one on Putin and you can’t help but draw parallels between the two – from their rise to ascendancy under somewhat synonymous circumstances to their huge popularity within their countries not despite but due to their despotic, ruthless and dictatorial behavior.

Hitler - Man of the Year 1938

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Hitler rose to prominence in the post WWI Germany, appealing to the sentiments of those humiliated Germans with hurt pride in the aftermath of a defeated nation desperate for a Nationalistic hero to give them a sense of self respect and global relevance back at any cost. He thrived and prospered in Nazi Germany by spreading his Fascist principles, revving up a sense of “superiority” among his countrymen by belittling, admonishing and killing people of other races, suppressing free speech and all opposition and turning into a ruthless dictator by getting rid of everyone in his way. Here’s a snippet of that controversial 1938 Man of the Year selection and the corresponding commentary..
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What Adolf Hitler & Co. did to Germany in less than six years was applaudeldly and ecstatically by most Germans. He lifted the nation from post-War defeatism. Under the swastika Germany was unified. His was no ordinary dictatorship, but rather one of great energy and magnificent planning. The “socialist” part of National Socialism might be scoffed at by hard-&-fast Marxists, but the Nazi movement nevertheless had a mass basis. The 1,500 miles of magnificent highways built, schemes for cheap cars and simple workers’ benefits, grandiose plans for rebuilding German cities made Germans burst with pride. Germans might eat many substitute foods or wear ersatz clothes but they did eat.

What Adolf Hitler & Co. did to the German people in that time left civilized men and women aghast. Civil rights and liberties have disappeared. Opposition to the Nazi regime has become tantamount to suicide or worse. Free speech and free assembly are anachronisms. The reputations of the once-vaunted German centres of learning have vanished. Education has been reduced to a National Socialist catechism.

Putin - 2007 Person of the year - many similarities in style and rise.

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Compare this to the circumstances and rise of Putin’s star. End of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, sudden and epochal disintegration of Soviet Union, a suffering but aspiring nation plunged into turmoil by an inept leader in Yeltsin totally incapable of guiding the nascent Russian democracy leaving a corrupted and crime-filled Russia hobbled and rudderless and many of the Russians on the streets trying to sell whatever they can for survival. When Putin took over in 1999, Russia was in dire straits and needed a strong leader.  Here are a few snippets from a very insightful article from TIME on the rising star of Putin and the way Russia is changing under his rule, when they made him the Person of the Year in 2007.

Yeltsin bombed his way out of the threat of civil war and managed to hang on to power, but Russia was left hobbled. Virtually every significant asset—oil, banks, the media—ended up in the hands of a few “oligarchs” close to the President. Corruption and crime were rampant; the cities became violent. Paychecks weren’t issued; pensions were ignored. Russia in 1998 defaulted on its foreign debt. The ruble and the financial markets collapsed, and Yeltsin was a spent force. “The ’90s sucked,” says Stephen Sestanovich, a Columbia University professor who was the State Department’s special adviser for the new Independent States of the former Soviet Union under President Bill Clinton. “Putin managed to play on the resentment that Russians everywere were feeling.” Indeed, by the time Putin took over in late 2007, there was nowhere to fall but up.

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He is clear about Russia’s role in the world. He is passionate in his belief that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a tragedy, particularly since overnight it stranded 25 million ethnic Russians in “foreign” lands. But he says he has no intention of trying to rebuild the U.S.S.R. or re-establish military or political blocs. And he praises his predecessors Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev for destroying a system that had lost the people’s support. “I’m not sure I could have had the guts to do that myself,” he tells us. Putin is, above all, a pragmatist, and has cobbled together a system—not unlike China’s—that embraces the free market (albeit with a heavy dose of corruption) but relies on a strong state hand to keep order.

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In his eight years as President, he has guided his nation through a remarkable transformation. He has restored stability and a sense of pride among citizens who, after years of Soviet stagnation, rode the heartbreaking roller coaster of raised and dashed expectations when Gorbachev and then Yeltsin were in charge. A basket case in the 1990s, Russia’s economy has grown an average of 7% a year for the past five years. The country has paid off a foreign debt that once neared $200 billion. Russia’s rich have gotten richer, often obscenely so. But the poor are doing better too: workers’ salaries have more than doubled since 2003. True, this is partly a result of oil at $90 a barrel, and oil is a commodity Russia has in large supply. But Putin has deftly managed the windfall and spread the wealth enough so that people feel hopeful.

Russia’s revival is changing the course of the modern world. After decades of slumbering underachievement, the Bear is back. Its billionaires now play on the global stage, buying up property, sports franchises, places at élite schools. Moscow exerts international influence not just with arms but also with a new arsenal of weapons: oil, gas, timber. On global issues, it offers alternatives to America’s waning influence, helping broker deals in North Korea, the Middle East, Iran. Russia just made its first shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran—a sign that Russia is taking the lead on that vexsome issue, particularly after the latest U.S. intelligence report suggested that the Bush Administration has been wrong about Iran’s nuclear-weapons development. And Putin is far from done. The premiership is a perch that will allow him to become the longest-serving statesman among the great powers, long after such leaders as Bush and Tony Blair have faded from the scene.

But all this has a dark side. To achieve stability, Putin and his administration have dramatically curtailed freedoms. His government has shut down TV stations and newspapers, jailed businessmen whose wealth and influence challenged the Kremlin’s hold on power, defanged opposition political parties and arrested those who confront his rule. Yet this grand bargain—of freedom for security—appeals to his Russian subjects, who had grown cynical over earlier regimes’ promises of the magical fruits of Western-style democracy. Putin’s popularity ratings are routinely around 70%. “He is emerging as an elected emperor, whom many people compare to Peter the Great,” says Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center and a well-connected expert on contemporary Russia.

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Now that Putin has solidified his grip on power, he no longer seems overly concerned with courting Western approval. Despite a chorus of disapproving clucks from the West, Putin has shackled the press, muted the opposition, jailed tycoons who don’t pledge fealty. In Russia this has been a terrible time to be a democrat, a journalist, an independent businessman. Just ask Garry Kasparov. The chess grandmaster—the highest-rated player of all time—is a far cry from stereotypically dysfunctional champions like Bobby Fischer. Kasparov has a keen political mind and a lively sense of humor. For years he has fought an increasingly lonely struggle as a democratic activist facing an uncompromising state. On Nov. 24, while holding a political rally in Moscow, he was arrested on a technicality and spent five days at Moscow’s Petrovka 38 jail.

A week or so after Kasparov’s release, we are sitting in Moscow’s Cosmos Hotel, where he is taking part in a human-rights meeting. Assembled is a ragtag group of Russian activists, and here Kasparov is a star. (Even here his two bodyguards sandwich him whenever he walks about.) Unlike many of Putin’s other critics, who seem fearful of chastising their leader openly, Kasparov isn’t cowed. “Putin wants to rule like Stalin but live like Abramovich,” he says, referring to Roman Abramovich, the billionaire Russian oil trader who owns London’s Chelsea soccer team. “Putin’s system is more like Mafia than democracy.”

Putin’s administration has blocked democrats like Kasparov from participating effectively in politics by making it all but impossible for them to meet the entry requirements. The President, in our discussion, routinely suggests that Kasparov is a stooge of the West because he spoke to the foreign press in English after his arrest. “If you aspire to be a leader of your own country, you must speak your own language, for God’s sake,” he says. Kasparov recently gave up his long-shot race for President.

By all indications, Putin’s ambitions are not one of a conqueror that Hitler was, though the Chechens, people of Chechnya, might disagree.   Russians believe he is only doing what is necessary to strengthen Russia and make Russia relevant again in the world order.  All the Russians think he has good intentions for Russia and Russians, as evident from his whopping 70% popularity rating, but if Hitler and his evil ways have served any purpose to Germany and the rest of the world, it is that the ends will never ever ever ever justify the means!  Ask those Germans in the mid to 30s what they thought of Hitler and his well intentions for them and their country, and if they had a popularity rating then, my guess is his would have put Putin’s to shame.

In spite of my earlier snickering at TIME’s perception of America as the world in their selections, ironically, this ramble perhaps reads more like American propaganda.  The point though is that the inherent desire and almost a compulsive need for an individual’s search for identity and the perils of its mis-association with a patriotic and mythical nationalistic pride is not only cause for much internal anguish, it is also a dangerous perpetrator of much violence in this world; but the ideals and myths of nationalism and their pros and cons are a topic for another day.

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