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Almost no one was happy with 2020.
There are presumable exceptions. Many people chose to get married during the year. Many babies were born. And, I’m pretty sure, it was a banner year for Sonic Drive-In, the restaurant built for a pandemic. For most of us, though, we never want a year like it again.
A lot of people are making predictions for 2021. Some say it will be better than 2020; some say it will be worse.
I have no clue. So, instead of looking ahead at 2021, I’ll look back, with 20/20 hindsight, to another pivotal year in American and world history.
On Jan. 1, 1945, the world was in more doubt and chaos than it is now. Before the year was through, however, many monumental events happened to secure American freedom and world security, at least temporarily.
Picture life in America Dec. 31, 1944, with World War II raging. Millions of American soldiers, sailors and Marines were scattered throughout the globe, constantly in harm’s way. Stateside, the economy was at a standstill, and rationing affected almost every commodity. Much of the active employment was work supporting the war effort. The bitter Battle of the Bulge, mired in snow and bad weather in Germany, was ongoing, a pivotal battle that could turn the tide one way or another. Nazism was in power in Europe, millions of Jews, gypsies and gays were dying in concentration camps, and the future of the free world hung in the balance.
So, what happened in 1945? A lot of important things happened but, with everything gained, there is a cost, a price to pay. Often a terribly dear price.
Jan. 25, 1945: The Allies, with support from the Soviets, declare victory in the three-week long Battle of the Bulge. The victor put the Germans on their heels, giving the Allies the edge in the European Theater. The cost, though, was more than 19,000 American lives.
March 26: After more than a month of fighting, Americans claim victory in the Battle of Iwo Jima, the fight for an obscure but strategic island in the Pacific Ocean. The battle gave Americans an edge against the Japanese, and the famous flag-raising photos provided inspiration for those stateside, as well as those still fighting. The cost: more than 26,000 U.S. casualties, including 6,800 killed.
February/March: The date is uncertain, but 15-year-old Anne Frank dies of typhus, not before leaving her famous diary, which gave voice and a face to millions of Holocaust victims. The sad, disturbing post-script: Millions of people worldwide still insist the Holocaust never happened, calling it a hoax, or propaganda.
April 12: U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt dies unexpectedly. Vice President Harry Truman is sworn in as President that night.
April 28: Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, and fellow Axis Leader to Germany’s Adolf Hitler, is executed by Italian partisans, and publicly hung by his feet.
April 30: Hitler commits suicide. He had made his retreat to his bunker Jan. 16, and made his last public speech Jan. 30, broadcast on radio, insisting the Germans would still win the war. In less than three weeks, three key figures of World War II are gone.
May 8: Germany officially surrenders, marking V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day).
July 16: The world’s first atomic bomb detonation takes place at New Mexico’s Trinity Site, the result of months of research and testing. The cost: For generations, rural New Mexicans suffer disproportionate incidences of cancer, likely due to the radioactive fallout of the blast.
July 26: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill resigns, after his Conservative Party loses to the Labour Party. A fourth World War II figurehead is out.
Aug. 6, Aug. 9: Atomic bombs are dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively shocking Japan into defeat. The cost: The actual figures may never be known, but best estimates conclude more than 105,000 dead in the two cities, and more than 94,000 injured.
Aug. 15: V-J Day. Japan officially surrenders. The day is known in the U.S. as Victory over Japan Day.
Sept. 30: Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru demand British troops leave India. The resulting efforts would lead to India’s independence, but less than three years later, with controversy swirling over the way territories were claimed, Gandhi would be assassinated. India’s independence no doubt changed the course of world history, and Gandhi’s teachings of peace and nonviolence would influence millions, including a young Dr. Martin Luther King.
Oct. 23: The Brooklyn Dodgers sign Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract with its Montreal affiliate. In less than two years, Robinson would debut with the Dodgers in Ebbetts Field, breaking Major League Baseball’s longstanding barrier against African-American players. Robinson’s efforts changed baseball and American sports forever and helped spur the Civil Rights Movement. The cost: No doubt abetted by the stress of years of public abuse and private torment, Robinson dies young in 1972, at 53 years old.
Whatever worries and complaints we have about 2021, they’re less critical than the issues of 1945. Through perseverance, ingenuity, hard work and faith, we made it through 1945 better on the other side. There will be costs, as there always are, but I’m betting on America again in 2021.