Friday, February 20, 2009


The passage of this year is already picking up steam, and before we turn around it will be halfway gone. The next year turn will be into 2010, and the first decade of this century will be over.

As one who remembers the "Year 2000" problem that faced the computer industry, this almost stuns me. It's also startling to realize that there are children now in school who weren't even alive on September 11th, and youngsters in middles school for whom that day is a historical event they were told about, not an experience that is recalled. 2010. How quickly the years pass.

As a student of history, I'm fond of casting back and wondering about how things looked in other times. For instance, the approach of 2010 makes me wonder how things looked a century ago, in 1910. In that august year, the world's leading - and arguably sole - superpower was Britain. Their empire spanned the globe, their wealth outstripped anything before seen in history, their navy ruled the oceans, and their military was superior to anything on earth. They were (finally) at peace with their rebellious child the United States, which was still suffering growing pains. The civil war that had nearly torn that country in half was still within living memory, and they were struggling to digest the massive acquisition of land and immigrant population that had marked the 19th century. Though their feisty president Roosevelt had made a show of power and presence with his "Great White Fleet", it consisted of a mere 16 battleships. The United States was decades, probably generations, from being a world power even close to what Britain was.

Imagine if someone had stood in Trafalgar Square in 1910 and foretold that a mere 30 years hence, Britain would be suffering direct and devastating attacks on its own soil - something that had not happened for nearly a millennium - and would be scrambling to deflect the imminent danger of invasion. Imagine if that prophet had gone on to predict that within 40 years, Britain would be stripped of most of its empire, have its wealth severely depleted, and see its military so badly beaten that it would have had to appeal to the United States for aid not once but again and again. Imagine if that person had said that by the middle of the century, the flower of two generations of Britons would have been shredded on battlefields and oceans around the globe, and though they would be ultimately victorious, it would be at terrible cost to their homeland. Who would have believed such fantastic predictions?

And yet, that was precisely what happened. The Britain of 1910 was battered and supplanted within two generations, going from dominant world superpower to needy recipient of international generosity. To be sure, her citizens showed heroic resilience and steadfast courage, and made tremendous sacrifices to preserve their freedom, but Britain's international stature was permanently shaken. She was replaced on the international stage by the United States, of all nations!

This lightning-swift reversal of fortune for Britain – most of which happened between 1915 to 1945 – makes me wonder about the fate of the our country at the dawn of this century. Even without bringing in issues of Divine judgment and cultures reaping what they have sown, this example illustrates how quickly change can happen, and severe a catastrophe can be. Anyone who looks at the international political and diplomatic landscape and presumes that this is how things will be for a while should take a lesson from this slice of history.

Where will America – and the entire West – stand in 2050? God alone knows, but it is folly to presume that He will respect what we consider Great Nations and Robust Economies. As the 20th century proves, such things can topple with startling swiftness. Thus has it always been with the kingdoms of men.

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