- Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 December 2009 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 30 December 2009 05:00
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We’re saying goodbye to the first decade of the 21st century and here we are, after 10 years, still debating about what to call it. However, this problem isn’t unique to us. From everything I have been able to find out, our great grandparents, a hundred years ago, had the same problem. Teddy Roosevelt referred to the years as aught six, aught seven, and what have you. But I don’t think he found it a satisfying reference and probably searched in vain for something with more of a rhetorical flourish. But, alas, he never found it.
When the 21st century dawned, I remember a debate raging about whether we had done enough to prepare for Y2K. For those of you who may have forgotten this, it was the fear that some of our computer software, written in vintage code, wouldn’t be able to handle the switch over to the year 2000. Many thought that our automated systems would simply shut down or go into some sort of frantic “do loop.” The commonwealth, the federal government, and companies all over the world spent fortunes to try to make sure that didn’t happen. The good news: I remember waking up on New Year’s Day to find that all my gadgets (alas, all rather antiquated when compared to what we have today), worked just fine. They must have gotten it right.
Unfortunately the decade that followed wasn’t an easy one. It began with an election between George Bush and Al Gore that was one of the most disputed in history. Bush was declared the winner, but the whole affair left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Then there was Sept. 11. There has been so much written about this terrible day, so many images recorded, and so much pain, that I can’t possibly add anything to the recollection. Safe to say that very few events in our nation’s history, short, of say, Pearl Harbor, have had such a long-term impact on our country. It continues to resound in the way we manage our domestic security, the approach we take to our international relations, and the focus of our national defense. It has, directly, and indirectly, led to two wars — one in Iraq, which is winding down, and another in Afghanistan, the original hideout for the terrorists, which is ramping up again. When it’s going to end is anybody’s guess.
For most of the decade the economy was the silver lining. Seems hard to believe right now doesn’t it? Stock portfolios, retirement accounts — you name it all kept gaining in value. And then, reminiscent of 1929, in a matter of months, they crashed. It was speculation run wild. As the decade closes there are signs of recovery, but we still have a long way to go.
However, perhaps the biggest news of the decade came with the election of 2008. Barack Obama, a black man from Illinois, was elected president of the United States. Forty years ago, the very notion of an African-American president would have been unimaginable. But listening to him take the oath of office, and remembering, as I do, the days of segregation, made me smile with pride. America is a different place. We proved we could move beyond the burdens of our past and our prejudices. That thought still warms my heart. Now, as to whether he will turn out to be a good president, we need to give him some time. He inherited a mess, has an ambitious agenda, and those two factors combined, have made this a tough first year. But I am encouraged.
I would like to close with one thought. There has been a tendency during this first decade of this century, no doubt caused by its many crises, most notably the economic downturn, to think that our best days as a nation are behind us. It’s sort of a funk we’re in at the moment, and it’s one I understand. I feel it too. But, please, think back on some of the greats. Do you think that people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan, looking at all the opportunity and possibilities that lay before us, would possibly agree with such a foolish statement? I don’t think so. They might be inclined to think we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. Understandable, perhaps, but we better get over it. There are things to be done. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get started on the next 10 years.