As the new century and millennium dawn on us, and the old ones
draw to a close, I find myself looking more to the past than
to the future. The last hundred years have shown us more achievements
and failures than any century before -- not just technological
advances, but social ones as well.
At the turn of this century, people were still using horses
and buggies as transportation. Women and African-Americans had
virtually no rights, and practically anything truly technological
was in the process of being or had yet to be invented.
In our list of many achievements, it is hard to know where
to start. I suppose one good starting point could be in the way
society thinks. Today, virtually anything is possible. The moon
is not made of green cheese and is no longer an unobtainable
goal. Man has flown through the air like a bird and into the
heavens in a rocket. All people deserve equal rights. Although
there are still some who vehemently disagree, we hear less and
less of fights for equal rights.
Some of our elders have seen many exciting events in their
lifetime. In 1920, females got the right to vote. In 1969, only
a mere 66 years after the first airplane flight, man stepped
onto the surface of a planet not our own. Henry Ford came out
with his Model T car in 1908, revolutionizing transportation
and launching an era that has yet to close.
Despite a poor reception by the public when it was first introduced,
television has become one of the world's most common forms of
entertainment. Computers weighed as much as 30 tons in 1945,
as opposed to the much lighter versions of today.
Of course, not all changes have been for the best. The 20th
century has had its share of wars and problems. Sometimes it
seems that as soon as we solve one problem, another begins.
In 1914, "the war to end all wars" began, and ended
in 1917. It was followed by yet another war, World War II, only
25 years later. In between the two wars was the Great Depression,
years of unemployment and poverty. In the years after the "Great
Wars," mankind would see the Gulf War, the Korean War, the
Vietnam War, the Cold War, and numerous other wars and revolutions
that are not well known.
In a rapidly changing world, disasters are inevitable. The
most notable may have been the sinking of the Titanic. This "unsinkable
ship" served as a warning to mankind that despite all of
our advances, we are not invincible. The crash of the Hindenburg
in 1937 ended the days of giant airships, and the 1986 loss of
the Challenger rocket impaired NASA's space program.
There have been many discoveries in the 20th century, whether
they be uncovering the mysteries of our past or proving what
we can achieve. King Tut's tomb was discovered in 1922 and a
cave found in 1940 contained paintings 15,000 years old. Man
raced to the Poles in 1911 and reached
them; then we touched the summit of great Mt. Everest in 1953.
Not all discoveries were to our benefit. The splitting of
the atom in 1938 launched the atomic age and gave birth to the
atomic bomb. For the first time in history, we had the ability
completely to annihilate ourselves.
So, as the curtain closes on the 20th century, we have to
look back and marvel at all we have done. One can only wonder:
if we have achieved all of this in one hundred short years, what
is possible in the next hundred? By the end of the 21st century,
our world most certainly will be a very different place.