Term Paper: 1500

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¶ … 1500 a.D.

Criteria for Defining the Most Significant Historical Event:

In considering the various candidates for the most significant event in human history, several pivotal conflict and transitions stand out. Among them: the Renaissance,

which ushered in the Age of Discovery and Exploration, the French Revolution, which pioneered concepts like religious tolerance, self-determination, and inclusion of the masses of the less fortunate into political life; the Industrial Revolution, which introduced the technological achievements that were to make modern life possible for much of the world's population; the American Revolution, which established what was eventually to become one of the world's greatest and most influential powers and shapers of the modern world; the American Civil War, which eliminated the institution of human slavery in the New World; the two world wars of the twentieth century, which shaped the direction of future geopolitics more than any other events in history, and the Cold War that followed, which may have taken the place of a war with the potential to destroy much of the world shaped by all the other historical events in a matter of hours.

World War II as the Most Significant Single Event in Recorded History:

In determining which event was likely the most significant among the others, one of the most important criteria must be the sheer number of human lives actually affected, the lasting effects on future generations, and the likelihood that other events of the same kind would have resulted in similar changes had it never transpired. While all of the historical events listed contributed very significantly to human life, each one changing it in myriad different ways, it is difficult to argue that any other single human event altered the course of human history by itself more than World War II.1

Human history has demonstrated that with respect to revolutionary changes in philosophical and political thought and also with respect to technological achievement, even the most dramatic developments and innovations occur simultaneously in different cultures, simply as a function of human intellect, social learning, and time. Other human events, such as the Industrial Revolution owe their relative significance to the ways that they accomplished the betterment of human life. However, because the same achievements also made possible the developments of instruments of warfare that brutally destroyed so many human lives, their benefits must be considered in light of their corresponding detriments, rather than one dimensionally.2

The most destructive event in all of human history would, undoubtedly, have been a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, which, by virtue of the sheer numbers of human lives lost, would have constituted a monumental historical event. Luckily, it never transpired, despite the fact that the two nuclear powers probably came much closer to a "hot" war in 1962 than many realized at the time.3

In retrospect, the Cold War was more a function of mutual paranoia than anything

else and its most significant outcome was the undoing of Soviet Communism rather than the prevention of any design for worldwide communist domination through expansion.

Considered in that light, it cannot compare to the significance of World War II and the degree to which that conflict shaped the modern world.

1. Miller & Commager, 2002

2. Nevins & Commager, 1992

3. Ibid

Even World War I, at the time considered the "war to end all war," was, in retrospect, merely a precursor to the continued conflicts that it never really solved, that eventually triggered World War… [END OF PREVIEW]

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