Well, the new century has finally come of age. Yup, the first baby born in 2000 can now walk into the neighborhood bar, order up a shot and a beer and not offend the law in any state in the union – if any neighborhood bars were open, that is…
Yeah, dealing with COVID closures, a pouting president, war, recession and a guy running Russia doing his best to do us ill is just about enough to get a fellow figuring that this has to be about the worst century ever, enough to get a guy longing for the good old 1900s when pot was everywhere illegal and gays got beaten up a lot.
It’s said that hindsight is 2020, but it’s probably more accurate to claim we look back on the past through rose-tinted glasses. If the first two decades of this century were somewhat less than universally swell, exactly how did they compare with their counterparts of 100 years ago?
Now granted, it’s hard to make anything close to legitimate comparisons — after all, consider advances in technology. In just 21 years great-great-gramps went from horse carts to traffic jams; from dots and dashes to KDKA and other pioneer broadcasters sending news, music and the ball game across the nation, free to anybody with a crystal set and time on their hands. Add to that the War to End All Wars, the Great October Revolution, an earthquake in San Francisco and the Titanic only making it partway across the Atlantic and it looks like the 20th century also got off to a rather rocky start.
Not that first decades of the 21st have been a bed of roses. Terrorism, 9/11, the Great Recession, Charlottesville, George Floyd, COVID-19 and Donald Trump on top of it all.
Well, a hundred years ago we started the new century fighting a guerilla war in the Philippines and a deadly bomb went off on Wall Street in 1920. There were the panics of 1901 and 1907, topped off by the Depression of 1920-21 that did folk’s economic security no favors. In 1915, D.W. Griffith released “The Birth of a Nation” a film elegy to the Ku Klux Klan that President Wilson, after a White House screening, declared it “all so terribly true.” Less than 10 years later more than 4 million Americans would be wearing Klan robes and more than 1,500 Americans would be lynched in the new century’s first two decades.
And let’s not forget the flu. From February, 1918, to April, 1920, the Spanish influenza, COVID’s more deadly third cousin, infected one out of every three people living on the earth, leaving more than 50 million dead, 675,000 of them in the United States. Oh, and people complained about wearing masks, not going to parties and government interference in their lives back then too.
Meanwhile, the president had a stroke, his wife was running the government and in 1920, voters elected Warren Harding, who would rank as one of the least qualified, least capable men ever to live in the White House, to lead a historically incompetent and corrupt national administration.
On top of it all, the Prohibition Amendment had been ratified and there wasn’t a legal drink to be had until 1933.
So much for the good old days.
Sure, not everything’s all that swell — to understate it wildly — but in times like these, a little perspective comes in handy. We’re not in the throes of the Apocalypse nor are we ensconced in the outskirts of Paradise. Depending on the day, place and person, life is tough or life is good or, most likely, something in between; and the best we can do is be kind to each other and help out all that we can. Maybe then there’ll be a happier new year for us all.
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