Magazine article USA TODAY

The Top 10 for the 20th Century: National Affairs

Magazine article USA TODAY

The Top 10 for the 20th Century: National Affairs

Article excerpt

The following events, many totally unexpected, changed the course of American history and the lives of our people in the century that has just passed. Any selection of 10 significant dates is bound to be personal and arbitrary. Crucial events such as the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandals, and the Information Revolution have been omitted because they do not unfold in one flash. The following dates began a series of events that left the U.S. a different country.

The assassination of William McKinley and the rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Sept. 6, 1901). The bullet that elevated Roosevelt to the presidency brought a change in the office and the direction of the nation. He was an outspoken proponent of an energetic presidency and more active Federal government. He used the presidency as a "bully pulpit" to rally the people around his programs for a National Park system, anti-trust policy, food and drug regulation, and strong navy. He set the model for governing that greatly influenced the presidencies of the 20th century and the forthcoming waves of liberal reform.

Woodrow Wilson asks Congress to declare war on Germany (April 2, 1917). In an impassioned message to Congress, Pres. Wilson, enraged by German U-boat attacks on American merchant vessels, called for a war "to make the world safe for democracy." While World War I accomplished nothing of the sort, this Wilsonian vision has influenced U.S. foreign policy ever since. Every conflict from World War II to Kosovo has had a Wilsonian justification, and many Americans came to accept a missionary role for the U.S. with global implications.

Charles Lindbergh begins his transatlantic flight from New York to Paris (May 16, 1927). This was more than a media event. Lindbergh had demonstrated the potential of intercontinental flight and helped to spur an entire industry. The world became smaller and more interconnected, and time and distance took on a new meaning.

Black Thursday and the stock market crash (Oct. 24, 1929). Despite historical myths, the stock market crash did not immediately engender the Great Depression. It did, however, begin a complex chain of events that left the U.S. economy in shambles and brought an old order to its knees. The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal with the regulations of banking and finance, the Social Security System, the protections for organized labor, and the minimum wage might not have come about without that tragic event. In some regards, the crash began the second American Revolution.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941). For many Americans, this may be the most memorable date of the century. In an instant, the world changed. The oceans were no longer two moats protecting the U.S. from the ancient quarrels of Europe and Asia, and, with America's entry into World War II, the nation was to become a superpower with global responsibilities a previous generation would never have imagined.

The bombing of Hiroshima (Aug. 6, 1945). World War II ended with a bang, not a whimper. The beginning of the atomic age meant that weapons of mass destruction could erase civilization and perhaps even life on Earth. …

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