VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio
WRITTEN BY: Joshua Garvin
These events made the world stand still. For this list, we'll be looking at the most shocking global events since the 1970s that, for good or for ill, left the entire world stunned. Our countdown of world events that left us speechless includes Hurricane Katrina, Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, Death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and more!
Top 10 World Events That Left Us Speechless
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 World Events That Left Us Speechless.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most shocking global events since the 1970s that, for good or for ill, left the entire world stunned.
Modern history is filled with world-stopping moments. Did we trip up and leave any off the list? Let us know in the comments below.
#10: Hurricane Katrina
One of the knock-on effects of climate change heating up the atmosphere is the gradual warming of the oceans. Warm water supercharges hurricanes by providing more moisture in the air that, in turn, fuels the storm. In 2005, the U.S. entered a new era of climate superstorms with Hurricane Katrina. The category five storm pummeled the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi at the end of August, decimating most of the coastal wetlands in the area. But when the levees around New Orleans failed, everyone looked on in horror as one of America’s greatest cities flooded. Families around the world stared at the news, stunned, as they witnessed people standing on the rooftops in flooded neighborhoods, begging for rescue.
#9: The London Attacks
Less than four years after September 11th, the United Kingdom saw the War on Terror hit the homefront. On July 7th 2005, four Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, in a coordinated attack, set off a series of bombs in London. The first three targeted London’s tube system, while the fourth exploded on a double decker bus. The nation was devastated by the worst terrorist attack in British History in nearly two decades. Over 700 rush-hour commuters were injured, and 56 died, including the bombers. A second, less successful attack followed two weeks later, but the damage was done and the world was shaken. London, the seat of the once largest empire in the history of the world, had suffered a devastating attack.
The year 2016 was a banner year for self-described nationalists around the world. The shocking election of Donald Trump capped it off, but the rightward turn began months earlier in the UK. By the end of 2015, right-wing discontent with the EU leadership in Brussels grew to a fever pitch. In an attempt to shore up his right flank, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a referendum to vote on leaving the EU. Prominent figures like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson jumped on the bandwagon, slamming foreign regulation and immigration. Britain shocked the world, and its own prime minister, with the success of the Brexit vote. Its aftermath and negotiations have churned through four PMs, so far, and led to years of devastating economic consequences.
#7: Haiti Earthquake
In January of 2010, the Caribbean island nation of Haiti was struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The entire country’s infrastructure was destroyed by the disaster and its 52 aftershocks. Hospitals, electrical and communications systems, as well as transport hubs collapsed. Between 100,000 and 300,000 people were killed, with about $8 billion in damages sustained. Haiti was already struggling economically, and without global aid, the entire country was on the verge of collapse. Armies of aid workers from around the world mobilized to save the island’s population afterwards. Unfortunately, Haiti has never truly recovered. Thousands fled the country, never to return. Today, crime lords run much of Haiti, while uncoordinated NGOs provide the bulk of social services.
#6: Attack at Munich
Thirty-six years after Adolf Hitler used the 1936 Olympics for propaganda, the international competition returned to West Germany. Unfortunately, instead of helping to unite the world in friendly competition, the 1972 games ended in tragedy. A group of eight armed Palestinian terrorists calling themselves “Black September” infiltrated the Olympic Village. They killed two members of the Israeli team and took nine more hostage. West German police attempted to negotiate for almost a full day, offering the group a plane to Cairo. The police attempted a raid and rescue on the tarmac, which failed utterly. All the hostages, one West German policeman, as well as five of the gunmen, were killed. It was a bloody end to an event that held the entire world’s attention.
#5: Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
In the two decades after Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, space travel became a commonplace affair. NASA had created the space shuttle program, and astronauts spent longer and longer periods in orbit. When interest in the interstellar began to wane, NASA launched the Teacher in Space project, from which Christa McAuliffe emerged as the first participant. Her inclusion on the Challenger Mission reignited interest. Fledgling news channel CNN broadcast the launch live, and classrooms across the country watched it in real time. After multiple delays, the Challenger launched at 11:38 am on January 28th, 1986. Less than two minutes after taking off, the space shuttle disintegrated live on air with many of the nation’s children watching.
#4: Paris Attacks
Early in 2015, the offices of Charlie Hebdo were attacked for depicting a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. The tragic incident resulted in the loss of 12 lives, and inspired demonstrations around the world. Later that year, the onslaught was followed up with the worst series of terrorist attacks in modern French history. At 9:15pm on November 13th, three explosions rocked the Stade de France while a match was ongoing. Soon after, a group of assailants rained bullets and an explosive on cafés and restaurants in Paris. The worst attack came later at the Bataclan Theater, where another group carried out a mass shooting. Over 130 people were ultimately killed. Millions expressed support with a French flag filter on their Facebook profile picture.
#3: Death of Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana Spencer lost the title of ‘Princess of Wales’ when she divorced Prince Charles in 1996. Her popularity never faded, though. Diana was known as the ‘People’s Princess,’ well regarded for her charity work and empathy. Her personal life was also a source of international interest. She spent years as a target of the tabloid press, and was hounded by paparazzi wherever she went. On the morning of August 31st 1997, the chase came to a tragic end. Diana’s driver was drunk when he attempted to elude the paparazzi. Sadly, he crashed the car with the princess and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, inside. The entire world mourned along with the British public, with an estimated over two billion people tuning in for her funeral.
#2: Russian Invasion of Ukraine
In early 2014, the Maidan Uprising ousted corrupt Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych from power in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin wasted no time in responding. Russia almost immediately annexed Crimea, a strategic land mass in Ukraine’s southeast. Many in Ukraine and the West saw this as a first step in long-term plans for invasion. The country spent almost a decade modernizing its military from a Soviet-style force into a NATO-style army. They begged the West for military aid and training, and prepared for the inevitable. In February of 2022, the Russians struck, launching a full-scale invasion. As the world watched, despair turned to hope and enthusiasm as the Ukrainians - led by their indefatigable president Zelensky - put up a good fight against their invaders.
#1: September 11th
For many American Baby Boomers, the formative world event of their childhood was the assassination of JFK. For Generation X and Millennials, that event was 9/11. On September 11th 2001, terrorists from Al Qaeda hijacked four commercial flights in the United States. Two flew into both towers of the World Trade Center, while another crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth plane went down in Pennsylvania after passengers fought back. The entire country came to a standstill. Eyes all over the world were glued to their televisions. The U.S. became the only nation in history to invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter. Nobody knew exactly what would follow; we only knew that we'd entered a new age in geopolitics.