Copyright © 2007 Henrietta W. Hay
May 4, 2007
I had a birthday last week. I asked my friend the philosopher what
was so special about being 93. She said, "Being it."
I have lived through most of the 20th century, probably the greatest time of
change in American history. But just because I lived through those
years it doesn't mean I understood what was going on. We tend to forget that
history happens while we are just living our lives.
1914: The First World War and I started that year. Archduke
Ferdinand of Austria was murdered in Sarajevo. Out of that grew what was
then called the Great War and people hoped it would be the "war to end all
wars." It wasn’t.
It was peaceful for a while until Black Thursday in 1929 when the
New York Stock Exchange crashed. The financial system collapsed and
the Great Depression began. It hurt every American.
Then came Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941. That landed us in the
middle of World War II which we still think of as the last good war. When it
ended with the first atomic bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of
us didn't realize that a new era had begun.
1950 brought us to war again. This time in Korea. Except for the men and
women still alive who fought in it, we tend to remember the Korean War by
watching MASH on TV.
The Vietnam War pretty much took front and center in the 1960s. The military
draft created such huge protests among the younger generation that basic
cultural changes occurred. Returning soldiers were often treated very badly
by the public. Since then we have learned not to blame the men and women who
fight in unpopular wars.
But the 20th century will be remembered for much more than the wars:
It was a century of spectacular inventions and developments. John Glenn was
the first American to orbit the earth, and Neil Armstrong was the first man
to step on the moon.
Medical science developed so fast and spread widely that we hardly realized
the miracles that were taking place. Many diseases have been controlled with
antibiotics and preventive inoculations The percentage of people 93 years
old and older is
increasing fast. Greeting card companies have taken note. They have special
cards for people celebrating their 100th birthday.
Two major social achievements took place in the 20th century. The Civil
Rights Movement brought African Americans into main stream America. And
women pushed for equality in the workplace and in public life. The Second
Women’s Movement gathered steam in the 1970s and as a result women are
represented in ever growing numbers in corporate American as well as in
elected offices. Much work needs to be done before there is true equality
between the sexes but we’re off to a great start.
Our world got a lot smaller in the 20th century. Automobiles and planes
helped shrink it. But it became even smaller with such inventions as the
radio, television, and cell phones.
In 1936 a German engineer whose name most of us have never heard,
Konrad Zuse created the first programmable computer. We had no idea
what was coming, but by the end of the century the whole world was
connected by the Internet. Individuals and companies and governments
can communicate with each other instantly. Perhaps more than anything
else, the 20th century will be known for leaps in telecommunications.
Those of us in our 90s have seen the horrors of wars and the miracles of
technology. I wonder what the 21st Century will bring.