Editor's note: December's Question of the Month asked...


January 01, 2000

Editor's note:

December's Question of the Month asked readers to name the most important event of the century. On this page are some edited responses.

World War I set the stage for a bloody century

The century's events that stand out in my mind are the two world wars. And since the first world war very much led to the Second, I nominate World War I as the event of the century. It was exceeded in ferocity only by the war to which it gave rise.

World War I was the first in which a weapon of mass destruction so horrified the world that it was banned from future battlefields. And at least the western nations have observed the ban on poison gas.

The war led to the Russian Revolution, as a country sick of war overthrew the tyranny of the czars, only to wind up with the tyranny of the Bolsheviks.

Russia got out of the war, ceding territory previously conquered. Josef Stalin waited for World War II to reconquer Poland.

The Versailles Treaty that ended the war made Germany the scapegoat for the war and imposed extreme reparations. This gave Adolph Hitler the issue he used to rise to power in Germany.

During the war, Turkey murdered 1.5 million citizens, simply because they were of Armenian ethnicity. Hitler used the argument "Who remembers the Armenians?" to claim he could get away with his "final solution" for the Jewish problem.

The Versailles Treaty created Yugoslavia out of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, setting the stage for the horrors committed by Croatian Ustashe during World War II and by Croatia's Franjo Tudjman and Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic more recently.

In short, World War I set the stage for much of the history of the 20th century.

And I, for one, can find no good reason that the United States should have gotten into that war. If we had not, could the later history of the century have been worse?

Stephen J. Gewirtz, Baltimore

World War II united the nation

What I remember most about the 20th Century is World War II and the feeling of unity that prevailed in this country, for the common cause of winning the war.

One was reminded at every level of everyday life of the effort to win the war. Signs everywhere said "Buy War Bonds" and "The U. S. Army Wants You."

Walking into an elevator in a public building, you would see a sign that said "Loose Lips Sink Ships."

Every family had ration books for gas, shoes, meat, and sugar. I remember the scrap-metal drives that were held every few blocks in the city. I contributed my metal toy tea set to the pile of scrap metal.

After the war, ordinary life set in and people pursued their own agendas and their own interests.

The feeling of dedication to one common cause has never been repeated.

Beatrice Sapperstein, Reisterstown

Through nonviolent struggle, women won the right to vote

One of the signature events of the 20th century is that women won the right to vote.

They were not given it or granted it. Rather, women vote today because of the women's suffrage movement, a courageous, persistent political campaign which lasted more than 70 years and involved tens of thousands of women and men.

Forced to fight for their rights against entrenched opposition, these determined crusaders circulated countless petitions and gave speeches in churches, convention halls, meeting houses and on street corners. They published newspapers, pamphlets and magazines.

They did all this with virtually no political, financial or legal power.

The push for a constitutional amendment allowing women to vote formally began in 1848 at the first Women's Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

But it wasn't until Aug. 26, 1920 that this amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution.

Without firing a shot or issuing a personal threat, women won the right to vote through nonviolent strategies.

The tremendous struggle for that hard-won right is a key part of the history of our country, and of women's history.

Kathy Tilghman Kluge, Baltimore

The Cuban Missile Crisis pushed us to the brink

The most memorable event of the century for me was the Cuban Missile Crisis, which occurred while I was living in Miami in October 1962.

For days after President John F. Kennedy went on the air to warn the Russians about their missiles in Cuba, my siblings and I watched as flatbed trucks, with missiles partly covered by tarpaulins, plied the streets of Miami.

By Oct. 23 we awaited the literal fallout from Kennedy's naval blockade, which was regarded as an act of war by Cuba's Fidel Castro (and, we thought, by the Russians.

As Soviet ships drew closer to the U.S. blockade, classes were suspended at our high school to allow students to pray.

Many students cried, others appeared to be in a kind of emotional shock.

Hours later, school was dismissed early -- to enable students to be with their families, in what many expected to be the final hours of civilization.

Through the night, we watched, waited and prayed, fully believing we might inherit a world of ashes the next day.

Fortunately, there was another dawn; Nikita Khrushchev had backed down.

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