When the clock turned from December 31, 1999, to January 1, 2000, the world breathed a sigh of relief. All the fears associated with the term Y2K seemed to have been for not. Power plants did not shut down, airplanes continued to fly, communications function properly, and even our personal computers made the transition without a hiccup. It seemed as though a new millennium had dawned, even though technically the year 2000 was the last year of the old mill at him rather than the first year of the new one. That didn't matter; writing 2000 on our checks was a visual reminder that times had indeed changed.
The new millennium began full of promise. The American economy was doing well. The Cold War was over, and it was anticipated that resources could be moved from extraordinary defense expenditures in two more productive areas. The age of modern communications meant that people were more connected than ever, and the ordinary desktop computer help more power to calculate than the monstrous, expensive computers that had existed 30 years earlier. Medical care was advancing, and scientific discoveries that. Almost daily seemed to promise brighter days ahead in a variety of human endeavors.
When the actual first year the new millennium arrived, everything changed with shocking suddenness. On September 11, 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the aborted attempt on yet another government building, possibly the United States Capitol, changed America forever. Americans rallied around the flag and vowed vengeance to those who perpetrated that terrible evil. Before long airplane travel change drastically; no longer was a boarding pass all you needed to get to your seat on a commercial flight. New ethic tensions arose as Americans, contemplated the source of the attacks. For a while, the cold warriors seemed like the good old days.
Given America's propensity to take up arms in the face of perceived injustice, it was almost inevitable that the nation would launch its war against terror. The Gulf War of 1991 when United States drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait now appeared to be too little. Armed forces had stopped too soon and should have removed the threat perceived to have found a home in Iraq, among other places. Although the second war against Iraq removed Saddam Hussein from power, the the transformation of that nation into a thriving modern democracy has proceeded unevenly.
The continuing search for the forces behind the 9/11 attacks then led the United States armed forces into Afghanistan. Although there might have been lessons learned from America's assistance to Afghanistan during the Russian occupation, those lessons did not necessarily translate into useful guidance in the search for Al Qaeda and America's enemies in the war on terror. American forces found and killed Osama bin Laden, but the world remains a dangerous place. Ethnic and religious tensions still operate along the borders between India and Pakistan, and the Middle East, and even in Northern Ireland, where at least the violence seems to have been halted.
More recently the attention Americans has been focused on our own internal economic affairs. The so-called dotcom boom blew up, and over exuberance on the part of banking and other financial interests led us to one of the worst economic periods since the Great Depression. The stock market plunged, unemployment rose, and as the Boomer generation approached retirement age, Americans began to worry seriously about our ability to pay the bills that we had incurred over the years. Political divisions in the United States sharpened, and an age when politicians on both sides he could sit down and work out compromises to move the nation forward seemed to be a dream world that had disappeared. Government shutdowns were sometimes of the great divide in the American political landscape.
Another image that has tarnished the rosy picture that seem to rise at the turn of the millennium is that of school children and teachers huddled in fear as crazed persons with automatic weapons wreak havoc in our schools, places that were once considered sacred, safe havens where young people could learn about the world around them. Now the lessons that they learned have a different character; as they walked to their classrooms each morning, most children probably don't pay much attention to the guards and security people who now of necessity find a permanent residence in our halls of learning. But they're there, and they will probably always be there now that the desire to kill other human beings for some incomprehensible reason has become so common.
This section of the website will deal in more detail with the historical events that have occurred since the year 2000. But American history no longer seems to be a narrative; it has become for this historian a series of disjointed events that lack coherent context. Life does not progress smoothly and 21st century America; it jerks along from crisis to crisis, interspersed by periods of satisfying events such as the resurgence of the stock market is the end of the year 2013 years. But where in past decades, even in the dark hours of the Cold War, Americans to seem to know what the future promised, that has become more difficult.
Future Shock by Alvin Toffler was written almost half a century ago, but the rate of change has accelerated manifold since then. Today's technology will be obsolete before the next year ends, or so it seems. We are deluged by information, the vast majority of it of minimal consequence at best. Yet we are told that unless we can get the latest message on our communication devices faster than the next person, we will somehow be losers in the great game of life. There is much to be celebrated: the presence of cancer in a person no longer automatically pronounces a death sentence. Airplane travel is far safer than it was even 10 years ago. Automobiles and trucks are more efficient and reliable than ever before. Modern communications devices allow us to have virtual movie theaters in our living rooms. All those things compensate; they do not, however, remove the cause of fear that overhang our lives.
Welcome to the new millennium. We still have miles to go before we will be able to determine whether or not the promises that existed in the year 2000 will be fulfilled.
|To be continued ...|