2014 is a good year to look back on history.
It is a unique year because it marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The 20th century had more than its fair share of major historical events and individuals. It was the century of television, airplanes and moon landings. Influential people from John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to Jane Goodall and Amelia Earhart were born. Just listen to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel to get a taste of how busy the world was in the 1900s.
Even among the countless landmarks and milestones of the last century, some events stand out as being the most significant on a global scale. World War I in 1914, World War II in 1939 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 might just take the cake.
“Those events really did change the world,” said Michael Epple, a history professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. He believes that the World Wars and the Berlin Wall had huge consequences that continue to affect us today.
“World War I was the first time the U.S. sent troops to fight a war in Europe,” Epple said. “Americans felt pretty disillusioned after that war, but after Pearl Harbor, we really had no choice but to join World War II. That was when the U.S. started becoming the international superpower it is today. That was the start of the ‘great debate’: Should America be the ‘world police,’ or try to stay out of foreign affairs?”
The Berlin Wall, also known as the “Iron Curtain” that separated Western Europe from the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, was also connected to the World Wars. The massive German barrier was built by East Germany to protect its population from “fascist elements” in West Germany. This division in Germany would not have existed without the prevalence of communism, due to WWI, and Nazism, due to WWII.
“When the wall was torn down 25 years ago, it symbolized the fall of the communist regime,” Epple said. “It’s easy to see how all of these things fit together.”
On a national scale, 2014 also marks the 200th anniversary of America’s national anthem. In 1814 during the Battle of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner.”