The century that saw the deaths of over 150 million people in wars draws to a close tonight.
The century of great butchers – Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and others – exacted an horrific toll unmatched in the history of human life on this planet.
From the Boer War that raged on New Year’s Day 1900, the world was convulsed by “the war to end all wars” between 1914-18 and then the Hitlerian mayhem of World War 2 between 1939-45, followed in quick succession by the Korean and Vietnam wars, all these punctuated by countless minor and civil wars. The so-called “Cold War” and fear of nuclear annihilation dominated the second half of the century.
But the century ends in relative peace, although global conflicts have been replaced by regional disputes in Kosovo, East Timor and elsewhere. It is reported today that 65 conflicts rage in a third of the world’s 193 countries. The world is becoming increasingly “global”, both economically and politically, a trend hastened by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of communism in the old Soviet Union. A political hiatus appears to exist as the great winner of the the century, the United States of America, confronts the rise of economic rivals in China, Japan and Western Europe.
The century saw the development of electricity as a commonplace utility, the motor car wrought profound social change and the unfortunate development of sprawling suburbs. The development of air and space travel competed with computers and genetic engineering as evidence of man’s creative and inquisitive instinct. Ironically, as the Western world prepares to celebrate the beginning of a disputed new third millennium, the computer glitch known as Y2K hovers over the festivities, testament to both mankind’s ingenuity and fallibility.
Some see the century now ending as one of great advances in the spread of democracy. Australia is one year shy of celebrating its own century as a sovereign federation. Others point to the improvements in health and education, whilst yet others emphasise social changes such as those affecting the relationships between men and women.
The more pessimistic pinpoint environmental degradation as the great calamity of mankind since the Industrial Revolution. Oppression and denial of basic human rights are commonplace in many parts of the world.
But on this day of commercially hyped celebration and partying, it cannot be denied that most of us are captivated by the idea of the passage of time. Our need for historical and personal markers no doubt compels all of us to regard December 31st 1999 as a date significant, even if only briefly, in our lives.
The purists will argue the millennium has one more year to run, others believe it has already passed, whilst most of the non-Western world are entitled to dispute the very concept.
What we can be sure of is that the sun will rise as usual on the new morning and the new century. Around the world a population six times that which greeted the beginning of the 20th century will go about its daily routines, many in poverty, hunger, hardship and oppression.
The choices available to the world’s people and its assorted governments will remain as they were today. The clash of priorities, values and ideologies will continue. And, thus, so will Politics.