THE BACKGROUND: For Afghanistan, 2021 was punctuated by the chaos of a U.S. withdrawal and an uncertain next chapter. The Taliban, who were unseated as the country's rulers by a U.S.-led coalition after the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago, could not be stopped by a collapsing Afghan military and Western-backed government that fled.
THE BACKGROUND: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo entered 2021 seeing his reputation as a leader in the COVID-19 fight starting to fray. But nearly everyone expected it to be a year of triumph — over both his handling of the virus and anyone who stood in the way of an expected run for a fourth term.
China was one of the biggest stories of 2021 — from its plans to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in the face of criticism about its human rights records in the Xinjiang region, Tibet and Hong Kong to questions about how it would wield its economic power in a delicately balanced world.
After 2020 became a year of racial reckoning with the public killing of George Floyd and the protests of injustices against Black people, 2021 offered what can best be described as a follow-up year — a continuation of some familiar story threads with other new ones emerging.
THE BACKGROUND: Myanmar had another rough year in 2021.
On Feb. 1, the army seized power and prevented Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party from a second term in office. That day, Suu Kyi and top party and government colleagues were detained by the military just before the new session of Parliament was to convene.
THE BACKGROUND: As 2021 comes to a close, Roe v. Wade — the historic 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion — is imperiled as never before. The conservative-leaning Supreme Court indicated in arguments that it would uphold Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and may even overturn the nationwide right that has existed for nearly 50 years.
THE BACKGROUND: The year started with a lot of promise. The world had vaccines.
And even as the planet reached 2 million dead by the middle of the month of January, people in many of the hard-hit countries, including the United States and Britain, began rolling up their sleeves and receiving the life-saving shots.
THE BACKGROUND: 2021 was expected to be busy on the Mexican border. President Joe Biden, who took office in January, had said he was going to be a more welcoming president than his predecessor, President Donald Trump, and that alone was enough to encourage migrants to try to come to the United States.
THE BACKGROUND: An 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group in May left over 260 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
THE BACKGROUND: Tens of thousands of people have been killed in a war that erupted in November 2020 between Ethiopian forces and fighters from the country's Tigray region, who dominated the national government before Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.
THE BACKGROUND: It was the year that mental health took a prominent position in the sports world — led by two female athletes, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka.
Biles, the American gymnastics superstar, earned her seventh Olympic medal and second in Tokyo with a third-place finish in the balance beam final on Aug.
THE BACKGROUND: On Jan, 6 as Congress was meeting to certify the victory of Joe Biden, hundreds of President Donald Trump's supporters who claimed the election had been stolen violently pushed past police, broke through windows and doors and entered the Capitol, forcing legislators to interrupt their work and flee.
THE BACKGROUND: Captain Kirk — aka William Shatner — finally made it into space, part of the new wave of civilian travelers sponsored by names like Bezos, Musk and Branson who are slipping the surly bonds of Earth 10 years after NASA's shuttle program ended.
THE BACKGROUND: On Oct. 21, on a movie set in New Mexico, what was supposed to be fiction lurched into reality in the most destructive of ways.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed by a prop gun held by Alec Baldwin, one of the country's most prominent actors.
THE BACKGROUND: Melting glaciers, deadly floods in Germany, record high summer temperatures in generally mild Oregon, more urgent pleas for help from Pacific island nations. With growing urgency, the effects of climate change were felt around the world in 2021.