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Jewish World Review
January 2, 2009
/ 6 Teves 5769
2009, a beginning
Here we are in the beginning of a new year - 2009. Amazing. I wonder if people one hundred years ago thought that 1909 was "Amazing" too. I'm sure emerging out of the 1800's the year 1909 must have sounded pretty futuristic to them. Imagine - the 20th Century only eight years old! How modern the year "1909" must have sounded! How new! A wonderful brand spanking new century all spread out before them loaded with hope, fresh ideas and grand expectations galore. People's optimism must have been terrific. Little did they know.
By 1914 the innocence of that new century was fading fast. World War I was underway. The Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo; pacifist Jean Jaures was murdered in Paris; war was declared by Austro-Hugary against Serbia; Germany declares war on Russia and France and invades Belgium; Britain declares war on Germany; Austria declares war on Russia, Serbia and Montenegro declare war on Germany; British troops land in France; France declares war on Austria; Britain declares war on Austria; France and Britain declare war on Turkey; Russians invade E. Prussia; Germans occupy Liege; and on and on and on.
The First World War will continue through 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918 until armistice is signed between the Allies and Germany on November 11th. It was to have been the war to end all wars, but it later proved to be just the beginning of a conflict that would continue to fester for the next 20 years and come into full bloom and be forever known as World War II. The total military death count for WWI was around 8.5 million. WWII was 55 million military dead.
The death camps of Hitler saw 6 million Jews exterminated. The massacres by the Japanese include the Bataan Death March (16,000 POW's) and Manila Massacre (70,000). In total about 15,500,000 people died in the Asia/Pacific War.
The 20th Century also saw the rise of communism across the globe resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of people including over 70 million in China and over 61 million in Russia/USSR alone. The Russian figure would include the Russian Civil War (9 million). The Armenian massacres of 1915 - 1923 bring another 1,500,000 deaths. Add up China's atrocities, the killings in Africa and other places and the toll rises by many more millions.
Our past century was bloody, brutal and horrific. But on the other hand, the 20th Century heralded some of the greatest technology of human kind. Silk-screen printing, airplanes, helicopters, rockets, stainless steel, gas turbine, synthetic materials, the jet engine, television, vacuum cleaners, and conveyor belts. Aspirin, surgical transplants, electrocardiograph, iron lung, antibiotics, therapeutic drugs, kidney machine, artificial heart. Safety razors, cloud-seeding, microwave cooking, photoelectric cell, radar, transistors, computers, fiber optics, lasers. And more and more. Inventions and technology that has saved lives and improved living for all people.
The 20th Century also produced some of history's greatest talents in the arts. Think about the emergence of popular culture in records, radio, motion pictures, and television (Okay, scratch television. But three out of four ain't bad). In pop music names like Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, Lerner and Loewe, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland just to name the few of the top of my head.
In the Fine Arts we had Henry Moore, Mary Cassatt, Edvard Munch, Marc Chagall, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Matisse, Kandinsky, Hopper, Beckmann. There was the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. In music there was Stravinsky, Toscanini, Copland, Bernstein, Schonberg, Weill, Richard Strauss, Pablo Casals, Maria Callas, and so many others.
Our amazing film directors, actors, actresses, performers of every kind that created the movies that we now call "classics" are too many to mention here but they too, are the contributors of the 20th Century. The iconic singers of each generation that brought us the music of our times, of the 20th Century - names like Crosby, Sinatra, Nat Cole and Elvis. Did anyone in 1909 think that such talent was in the offing? Could anybody have guessed the impact that the motion picture would have on popular culture? Or that the advent of television would change the world forevermore? Hardly.
I guess the point to all this is that we really have no idea what a new year, let alone a new decade or new century has in store for us. Horrors or beauty. Pain or pleasure. Wonderment or anxiety. Tears or laughter. In all probability, we will have some of all of the above. How much of which, only G-d knows. My best wish for all of you in the coming year is that the good outweighs the bad by ten thousand fold.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2008, Greg Crosby