2020 could turn out to be a momentous year, and not just because Donald Trump is likely to be re-elected.
Not since the arrival of the new millennium in 2000 has there been so much speculation about what a new year might bring based on the date’s apparent numerological symbolism.
2020 is often associated with one’s eyesight, of course. It symbolizes clarity and accuracy of perception. Writ large, 2020 might be seen as a year in which a country or a people or perhaps the entire world views its status or future more clearly.
2020 is not exactly unique, though. It turns out that every 101 years the calendar arrives at a year in which the same number appears twice.
It began over a thousand years ago when the calendar arrived at 1010. 101 years after that, it was the year 1111 (a rare foursome!), and then 1212, and then 1313 — and so forth.
One might ask, then, whether a pattern has been present previously. What do 1414 or 1818, 1919 have in common? Did anything special happen in those years?
In fact, these did tend to be formative times. The common thread seems to be that these were years for dramatic diplomatic breakthroughs, when past bitter conflicts were resolved or transcended and when some new foundation for peace was achieved.
Take 1414. One of the greatest divides in the history of the modern Catholic Church was resolved in that year. The schism had divided all of Europe, with rival and seemingly incompatible claims to the Papacy. It was a fierce bellicose contest that threatened perpetual war but the Treaty of 1414 set the stage for generations of stability.
In other words, 1414 turned out to be a banner year in the history of modern religion
A similar pattern of peace-building and stability was at work in the years 1818 and 1919. In fact, these turn out to be foundational years in the history of the United States and its relations with the rest of the world.
In 1818, peace between the United States and Britain was finally established after years of war. Six years earlier the two countries had battled over the future of the North American continent, America had declared its independence and beaten the British but the British hadn’t actually yielded
In fact, the War of 1812 — barely remembered today — saw the British seeking to undo America’s independence and by limiting Western expansion. At one point the British sacked the nation’s capital and nearly burned it to the ground.
America prevailed, and the British yielded, but it wasn’t until 1818 that a formal treaty was signed. This turned out to be the foundation of the Anglo-American alliance — the “special relationship” –that has shaped American foreign relations ever since.
The US-Britain relationship has seen America, Europe, and the entire eastern world through two World Wars and the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Ultimately, the entire Western alliance rests upon it
1919 also proved to be a formative year for America’s diplomatic and international relations.
1918 had seen the end of four years of bloody trench warfare, with millions dead and wounded, in the “Great War” that came to be known as World War I. It was a terrifying experience that the entire world hoped to put behind it — for good
1919 saw the establishment of the League of Nations, a forerunner of the UN. The brainchild of President Wilson, it as an idealistic experiment on global peace-building meant to prevent another global conflagration.
The League was also intended to create a lasting institutional framework for America’s emerging global leadership.
It was an imperfect effort that failed to avert another war, but it set the stage for the creation of the United Nations, which has remained in place for over 70 years.
It’s easy to criticize the UN, and rightly so, for its many flaws, but the world is better off for its existence. And it never would have happened without the precedent-setting example of the League.
If the past is prologue, one has to wonder if 2020 could prove to be another banner year for global peace-making.
Some elements are already in place. Under the Trump administration, there’s been a reaffirmation of the NATO alliance, and new alliance-building efforts in the Asia-Pacific region, largely designed to contain the rise of China.
But a more dramatic breakthrough would be a peace treaty between North and South Korea that finally to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Korea is the last remaining vestige of the geopolitical conflict of the Cold War. It’s also one of the last remaining flashpoints for a major military conflagration.
Another possibility is the Middle East. So far, Trump’s “deal of the century” hasn’t borne much fruit, but the region is exhausted and many see the possibility for advance during Trump’s second term.
It takes human will and courage to forge peace from the ashes of bitter conflict. But it doesn’t hurt to know that the weight of history might also be on your side — and to strike when the odds — and the numbers — favor you.
Could 2020 prove to be another breakthrough year — for America and the world?