The famous ‘Chinese curse,’ May You Live in Interesting Times certainly applies to America’s senior citizens. They have been cursed (or is it blessed?) to have witnessed quite a few monumental events during the past 70 years. Of course, virtually anyone (past or present) might make a similar assertion since, over the course of history, the world has been subjected to (often cataclysmic) events of a monumental nature with surprising frequency. Still, there has been no shortage of such occurrences since the start of World War II.
According to dictionary.com, the adjective monumental means ‘exceptionally great…in quantity, quality, extent or degree; of historical or enduring significance.’ Below is a list of major events that have occurred since 1940, which are of such enduring significance as to warrant the descriptive adjective monumental. The point of the article is to consider whether the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency merits inclusion on the list – and why or why not, especially if one compares its (potentially) enduring significance to that of the others on the list.
Clearly the compilation of a list of the most monumental events of the last three quarters of a century is a highly subjective affair. Nevertheless, the following entries would likely make most lists. Additionally, there will be many other events that could appear on another’s list as the choice of precise criteria for characterizing an event as monumental is also a subjective exercise (despite the definition given). No matter; the central issue of whether Barack makes the list depends more on one’s evaluation of the significance of his Presidency than on the contents of the list – and also more specifically on how one interprets the precise significance of his election.
Here’s the list – a baker’s dozen:
· The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor
· The Wannsee Conference and the consequent Holocaust
· The dropping of the atomic bomb and the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers
· The birth of Israel
· The launch of Sputnik
· JFK assassinated
· The Six Day War
· The lunar landing of Apollo 11
· Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon
· The election of Ronald Reagan
· The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union
One could write an essay for each entry as to why it belongs on the list. Instead, here are a few comments addressed to what some might consider quirks in the list.
1. The list probably contains more Jewish/Israeli items than many would include. Perhaps the author’s heritage was unduly influential. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly the case that each of the three such items truly belongs on a list of monumental events in world history over the last century.
2. In a few places, two (or more) events are conflated and listed as one for obvious reasons.
3. These are all ‘man-made’ events. There are no tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes or epidemics, although some would certainly insist that they belong.
4. Some of the events were glorious; some horrendous. By the author’s reckoning, there are seven of the former and six of the latter.
5. There is also a bias toward events that involve the United States. French people might want to include Dien Bien Phu or the ascension of de Gaulle. British folks might clamor for the 1956 Suez affair; Czechs for the quashing of the Prague Spring; Poles for the formation of Solidarity; etc. Given the venue, a focus on the US is appropriate here.
6. Even so, many items that others would surely insist belong are omitted: e.g., the Inchon landings and the Korean War; the Tet offensive and the Vietnam War; the formation of the UN; Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade; economic collapses like the market crash of 1987 or the dot.com implosion or the bursting of the housing bubble; the Civil Rights Act; or the advent of Medicare – and others.
Indeed, a highly subjective affair. Nevertheless, by way of justification for the above list, let us note that every event on the list meets the following criteria:
· The event was monumental according to the definition specified.
· It had powerful consequences for the societies directly impacted, and others as well.
· It influenced the course of history.
· It lives on vigorously and actively in the minds (and frequently the words) of tens of millions of people.
· It is marked, celebrated or castigated on a recurring basis by scores of descendants of those originally touched by the event.
Now comes the fundamental question of this piece. Does the election of Barack Obama become the 14th entry on the list? The instinctive answer is ‘yes!’ The 350-year history of slavery, segregation and discrimination perpetrated against black people is the greatest stain on America’s glorious history. One could easily argue that the election of a black man to the Presidency by an electorate that is no more than 13% black marks a historic, consequential, memorable, indeed monumental event in the history of the United States of America. It was an act of great national healing and atonement. It should mark the end of the bleak racial legacy of our country and initiate an age of racial harmony. Thus it obviously meets the criteria and therefore the answer to the question is undoubtedly a resounding ‘yes.’
But there are two critical reasons for qualifying the ‘yes’ with a ‘but.’
1. Barack Obama was presented with a great opportunity in January 2009. America offered him a position from which he could cement the benign, post-racial destiny that most American envisioned his Presidency would usher in. He spurned the offer. Through actions large and small (failing to prosecute the blatantly racist and manifestly illegal actions of certain Black Panthers on election day; imputing racist motives to a white Boston police officer who was merely doing his job; branding opponents to his economic and political policies as racists; and demeaning small-town, working class Americans with his snide remark about their clinging to their guns and religion), he has continued to stir the pot of racial animosity in this country. Because of his attitudes and actions, and of those he has surrounded himself with, the healing and unifying effect on society that his election was to represent – a prime reason for his election to be considered monumental – apparently will not occur.
2. Barack Obama is the first President of these United States who is post-American, indeed anti-American. He is not the first to be utterly contemptuous of the Constitution, but he is a hard-core, leftist ideologue who seemingly abhors what America stands for historically, who is ashamed of our country and who is hell bent on transforming it into a society radically at odds with the vision of our Founders. God help us if he succeeds. If he does succeed, then his election will certainly enter the list – but not for the salutary reasons enumerated above. Rather it will be because he destroyed America. Then he would be #14 and there would be seven of each type.