BOSTON — 2010 bristled with fascinating news. GlobalPost's top 10 stories of the year tours the high points of 2010 and looks toward those yet to come in 2011.
1) WikiLeaks — The end of secrets. WikiLeaks is a game-changer that highlights the potency of the internet.
Like it or not — like Julian Assange or not — WikiLeaks has changed the nature of confidential information, especially government documents. No government, corporation, army, diplomat, celebrity or anyone else can be absolutely sure that what they write, video or photograph will not be made public on the web.
Assange started off 2010 by releasing a riveting, unsettling video of a U.S. helicopter gunship attacking suspected Iraqi insurgents which turned out to be unarmed Iraqi civilians and two Reuters cameramen.
WikiLeaks ended the year with the mega-release of 250,000 U.S. State Department cables and Pentagon documents that had an impact in every corner of the world. Add to that the ongoing drama of the sexual misconduct charges against Assange, the attempts to shut down WikiLeaks and the hackers’ revenge — and you’ve got the story of the year.
2) Afghanistan War — The ongoing conflict between the U.S. forces and its allies versus the Taliban has been at the top of the news. U.S. President Barack Obama’s controversial counterinsurgency strategy led to the downfall of U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the return of Gen. David Petraeus. Talks with the Taliban were debated. U.S. aid projects designed to build support among Afghan civilians inadvertently channeled funds to the Taliban, as uncovered by GlobalPost.
No progress was seen in locating and hunting down Osama bin Laden. The border with Pakistan was both impenetrable and porous. U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke died saying the Afghanistan war must be stopped. But it goes on into Year 10.
3) EU financial crisis — The euro started off 2010 as a stable and highly valued international currency. Then the Greece debt crisis showed the weakness of the loose economic system allowing each country to run up its own deficits and balance its book — or not. We learned about the PIIGS — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain — all countries with economies so highly indebted that they would need to be bailed out. Germany came to the rescue of Greece, but can it carry all the other countries? This story continues.
4) Haiti earthquake — The cataclysmic earthquake shot Haiti to the top of the world news on Jan. 12. More than most natural disasters, the quake exposed the extent of Haiti’s dysfunctional government, poverty and lack of basic infrastructure. The outbreak of cholera and the chaotic elections kept the Caribbean nation in the headlines but no solution to the country's misery appeared.
5) North Korea — The world’s bogeyman, Kim Jong Il, was in fading health and prepared a successor, a previously little-known son, Kim Jong Un. But to take over the reins he had to show the world he is as frightening a wild card as his father. The sinking of a South Korean warship and the shelling of a border island followed. North Korea's nuclear program worried neighbors and distant countries alike. North Korea looked belligerent and unstable. South Korea and the United States scrambled to find a strategy to contain North Korea, without much luck. China appeared not to know what to do with its loose cannon ally.
6) Iraq — The United States forces withdrew some 90,000 combat troops from Iraq by Aug. 30 but that was not the end of the story. Iraq continues to be a turbulent cauldron of violence and instability. More than 4,400 U.S. troops were killed in the Iraq War and at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians. The March 7 election resulted in an unwieldy government not fully in control, as ethnic and Islamic rivalries exploded into violence. The Christian minority was a target of bombings. Ordinary Iraqis cannot see when the country will enjoy stability and prosperity. And the United States still has 49,000 troops in Iraq who are to be pulled out by the end of 2011.
The Iraq story is not over. Not by a long shot.
7) World Cup — Vuvuzelas, great soccer, Nelson Mandela, striking stadiums, Shakira. South Africa’s success in holding a festive World Cup was perhaps more noteworthy than Spain’s 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final on July 11. Despite the dire predictions of many doomsayers, the tournament took place without any major incidents of crime or violence. It was an exhilarating success not just for South Africa but for the entire African continent. There were countless gripping matches and scores of glorious goals. And who can forget the prescient predictions of the late, great Paul the octopus? This was the best good news story to lighten up 2010.
8) Pakistan floods — The floods that swept through Pakistan put approximately one-fifth of the country underwater and made a staggering 20 million people homeless. The devastation — estimated to cost $43 billion — and the human suffering highlighted Pakistan’s precarious state. Widespread corruption prevented effective government action. Add to that Pakistan was in an undeclared civil war against insurgents who made the border with Afghanistan uncontrollable. Terrorist violence broke out across the country. Pakistan received just one-fifth of the aid requested by the United Nations and is still recovering from the floods. It shows little progress in resolving the corruption. The floods highlighted that Pakistan is a weak, uncertain ally for the United States.
9) Mexico’s drug war — Pitched battles between Mexican army and drug gangs. Attacks on police stations by drug runners. Bodies disintegrated in vats of acid. Decapitated heads in refrigerators. Underground tunnels between Mexico and the United States. Mexico's drug war threatened to rage out of control along the border with the U.S. The lawlessness jeopardized the Mexican government but it also pointed to a deep, continuing problem of drug abuse in the United States. The Mexican drug cartels are merely supplying the demand.
10) Chile earthquake and Chile miners — Chile hit the world's headlines when an earthquake rattled the remote southern part of the country. The damage and deaths were relatively contained but the temblor shook down some big new buildings, exposing that some construction did not meet Chile’s codes.
As the country recovered from that disaster, 32 miners were trapped in a shaft a half a mile below the earth’s surface. There seemed little hope for the miners, until a drill reached the chamber where they were trapped and a note came back saying they were all alive. More weeks followed and we tuned into their ongoing drama. Chile’s president welcomed them when they finally were brought to the surface. Another story with a happy ending.
Bonus: Volcanos — Iceland and Indonesia — 2010 the year of volcanos. Who can forget Eyjafjallajokull? That's the Icelandic volcano that erupted in March 2010. The giant cloud of ash it sent into the sky disrupted air traffic across Europe on and off until May 2010.
Then in November, across the globe, Mount Merapi erupted in Indonesia, killing more than 100 people and threatening the city of Yogyakarta.