The instant the world changed

A new world was born 70 years ago out of the ashes of war. With it came many of today's world problems. With it also came a determination to make the world better.

JASON LEE/REUTERS
STUDENTS IN BEIJING WAIT TO ATTEND A CEREMONY MARKING THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE END OF WORLD WAR II.

This is the bookend to a column published in May (click here) marking the end of World War II in Europe. Seventy years ago this month, that terrible war was finally over. Japan’s formal surrender came on Sept. 1, and the new world took shape almost immediately – the next day, in fact. That seems important. The world can change in the blink of an eye.

On Sept. 2, Ho Chi Minh declared the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, setting off a struggle that lasted into the mid-1970s. On the 8th, American troops landed in the south of Korea, a month after Soviet troops occupied the north, roughly dividing the peninsula at the 38th parallel, where it remains divided today. On the 20th, Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru demanded India’s independence from Britain.

In October, David Ben-Gurion launched a revolt in Palestine that would culminate in the birth of Israel. Indonesia sought independence from the Netherlands. Eastern Europe began to fall behind the Iron Curtain. China slipped toward civil war. And everywhere, everyone understood that the atomic weapons that ended the war were a dangerous new reality.

In his book “Year Zero: A History of 1945,” journalist Ian Buruma describes the hunger, homelessness, and desperation across Europe and Asia in the fall and winter of ’45. Relatively quickly, however, the wounds of war healed, largely because of the generosity of the victors and the desire of the vanquished to leave the past behind. The dead were buried, the injured aided, the hungry fed. Shops and factories opened. A new world began.

We still live in the post-1945 world. Despite conflicts that have broken out since then, our world remains more or less under the postwar rule of law. The United Nations and other deliberative bodies promote negotiation over brute force – and most nations accept that, most of the time. Atomic weapons remain a grave concern, but none have been used since Nagasaki.

All that could shift. India and Pakistan, Iran and Israel, Russia and Ukraine, China and the nations of East Asia – all are potential points of conflict.(In a Monitor cover story, Simon Montlake profiles a China expert -- click here -- who counsels a strategy of careful engagement with China as it finds its way forward as a global power.) 

To borrow a phrase from evolutionary biologists, world order travels a path of “punctuated equilibrium.” Things seem solid and normal on the surface, then suddenly the old order gives way to the new.

That was September 1945. Late that month, the Monitor carried a report from New York on an address by the president of Columbia University, Nicholas Murray Butler, to the first class of postwar students. “The world of today is obviously at the end of a long and heartbreaking experience,” he told them. “This is the reason we must look forward. We must do everything possible to contribute to the development of a world which will conform to our highest ideals of human faith and human conduct.” 

We haven’t always done that. But we still can.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.