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What 20th century event has had the most impact on the world today?

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: November 01, 2010 
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What 20th century event has had the most impact on the world today?


72 Responses to “What 20th century event has had the most impact on the world today?”


  1. 1
    Mike H. says:

    The advent of the Atomic Bomb. Prior to that, warfare was a wholesale event. Nuclear weapons made all-out war a horror to be avoided at all cost. God help us all if some lunatic (Ahmadinijad comes immediately to mind) decides that God, Allah, Buddha, or the Gramd Wazoo "has told him (or her) that it's the will of Heaven…"

    • 1.1
      James Bruce says:

      The atomic bomb would (most likely) never have been developed if WWII didn't happen. It was/is one of the many lasting impacts on the modern world.

    • 1.2
      Wayne says:

      I am sorry, but i disaree, many civil wars are happening as we speak and the atomic bomb had no affect on many a war or wars since it's use.

      There maybe no world wars, but you could contribute that to the UN being fomed as much as the A bomb .

      Wars are going to happen regardless, just like a fight over a girl bewteen blokes, its not going to stop

      in so many countrys the A bomb has had no impact on a persons or persons life, how could it have the most impact of the 20th

  2. 2
    Drew P says:

    Id say the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. It lead to a war that cost millions of lives…changed the borders of Europe forever and toppled 3 empires and crippled another. Lead to a second bloodier war and a 50 year long cold war

    • 2.1
      Brian L. says:

      But was WWI going to occur eventually? It seems that the nations were itching for a fight, and the Prussian mindset that had been around for centuries, combined with the aggressive stanch of the French (Attack! Attack!), which had also been around for centuries, made it inevitable. Ferdinand was just the excuse they needed(?) (yes, I am asking a question here).

      • 2.1.1
        James Bruce says:

        Yes it was. The German General Staff were pressing for war since 1905, The "Schlieffen" Plan being the epitome of this, which had 'evolved' into the "Schlieffen-Moltke" Plan by 1914.

      • 2.1.2
        Matt says:

        Yes there was a massive amount of tension building but up to that point it was being vented through the expansions of colonies in africa and the middle east but when Gavrilo Princip killed the Achduke it created a flashpoint in Europe that led to the first World War

    • 2.2
      Herbster says:

      You are right on point, Drew. WW l, the "War to end all wars" set the stage for WW ll through the Versailles Treaty, or, Versailles Diktat as the Germans called it. We must also remember the naval side of WW l which also helped set forces in motion which would later rock the world. WW l never "Ended," it just slowly morphed into WW ll.

    • 2.3
      nestor delgado says:

      I agree with this comment.There were huge populations of widows in France,England and Germany-the english created a protectorate in Palestine,drew the boundaries of many countries of the middle east,after the defeat of the Ottoman empire. This Middle East countries like Iraq,were born after the WWI.Other countries in this area still are in huge conflicts today;some of them boycotted US backing Israel,and in 1973 raised the price of oil. "War brews war". The defeat of Germany in this Great War,and the rudeness of the Versailles Treaty impositions,made up for the vengeance attitude in Deutchland,and its military empowerment which ended in WWII.

  3. 3
    Kirpal says:

    The Second World War was the 20th century event that has had the most impact on the world today. This is because it had an effect, socially. politically, economically and culturally on the world.

  4. 4
    Chemerdjb says:

    I would have to agree that is was WWII as up to that time you can see an ever increasing ramp up of death in wars, however after the horrors of that war and the development and dropping of the atomic bomb there has been a precipitous drop in war deaths, even such savage conflicts and Iran-Iraq (80-88)

  5. 5
    Mike W. says:

    I agree about World War II since it shaped much of Europe today, especially the Balkans, led to the Cold War and the effects of that in the "stans" (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Krygystan) and that region in Asia/Europe. Its effects also reached to the Middle East, led to the establishment of Israel (a significant point of conflict even today), and to southeast Asia where Ho Chi Minh, who assisted the OSS in returing US pilots shot down fighting the Japanese, was identified as "too communist" for the US to work with, so we abandoned him as a potential ally only to have to fight him less than 20 years later.

  6. 6
    Leslie Speck says:

    Kitty Hawk!!

  7. 7
    Julie says:

    Moon Landing… Pearl Harbor… WWII

    • 7.1
      James Bruce says:

      Pearl Harbour? Seriously? The US got involved in the war months before that through the Lend-Lease Acts and sending help in the Battle of the Atlantic.

  8. 8
    Lobo says:

    I agree with Drew, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand caused the start of WWI which set the foundation for the modern world and set in motion the rest of the events of the century. World War II, the Atom Bomb, jet planes, and the space race with the US and USSR using ex-germans would never have happened if not for the First World War at the very beginning.

    • 8.1
      James Bruce says:

      The assassination merely provided a reason for Austria-Hungary to initiate war with Serbia, with Germany's willing support. The German General Staff had been pushing for war since 1905, the Kaiser and Austria-Hungary could only keep them at bay for so long.

      Even in the days before the war started (but after A-H's declaration of war on Serbia) Britain was offering that they and France stay neutral if Germany went to war with Russia (albeit so long as the German troops on France's border weren't used for the invasion of Russia) but the German General Staff had already initiated the (short sighted) "Schlieffen-Moltke Plan" which required complete surprise and speed, leaving no room for diplomacy due to the General Staff's enforcement of the plan.

      • 8.1.1
        Steve Tolces says:

        Just because some other unknown future event would have started a war there is no reason to believe it would be the same as WWI. The assassination was the direct cause of WWI, WWII the Cold War and contributes to most of the problems we have today.

  9. 9
    E says:

    WW I would have happened anyway, and WW II was just an extension of the former. I agree with Leslie, sustainable flight is the game changer. From that, development of rocketry and bombs followed and were themselves enhanced by advances in flight. Throughout the century, the world became smaller through flight, Our world's economies, governments, and care of the human race, have all gained in leaps as could never before have been achieved as a result.

  10. 10
    Ceaman says:

    On the 7th of September 1940 the Germans switched their attacks from British Airfields to British Cities this ended the Battle of Britain and gave Fighter Command the breathing space to regroup.The cancellation of Operation Sealion the invasion of Britain.followed. This allowed the use of Britain as a stepping stone for the invasion of Europe. Without this use America would have been unable to participate in the liberation of Europe

    • 10.1
      James Bruce says:

      Even if Germany did manage to get control of the skies, the Royal Navy would still have been a formidable force to defeat. The Kriegsmarine Surface Fleet had been devastated during the Norwegian Campaign, so imagine what would've happened to it in a British Campaign! And even IF the Wehrmacht did land on mainland UK, most likely, it would have been cut off from supplies by the Royal Navy. (from sea anyway)

      Going into the fantasy realm now, but IF Germany had managed to conquer the British Isles, imagine the amount of troops needed to quell the population. With over 40 million people and given the resolute attitude Churchill impressed upon the British, Germany would have needed AT LEAST 500,000 troops for its occupation. (the same number used in the occupation of France) With at least 1 million troops occupying both France and the UK, Stalin most likely would have been driven into action, with the Eastern Front having at least half a million German troops less, German defeat might have happened much earlier.

      • 10.1.1
        Ceaman says:

        The Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk by aircraft in just a few short hours. In the evacuation of Dunkirk 861 vessels were used of which 243 were sunk during the operation, that was with air cover. Without air cover the Royal Navy would have been sitting ducks. The destruction of even a quarter of the Royal Navy would have allowed Germany's U Boat's complete domination of the North Atlantic. This would have caused Britain to sue for peace. Up to 1943 the U Boat's were the only the only thing that had Churchill worried.

      • 10.1.2
        James Bruce says:

        Ok, but what were the chances of Germany getting air supremacy over Britain? In the face of the British outproducing the Germans (in terms of fighter planes), the limited range of Me 109s and 110s, the number of pilots available to Britain compared to Germany, the lack of military intelligence the Germans had regarding the British, the radar system and spotters used by Britain and the general incompetence of the German leadership, Germany had little chance of achieving air superiority, let alone air supremacy.

        How many U-Boats did Germany have in 1940? It only had 25 available at the start of the war in the Atlantic and 50 by June 1940, then 109 by March 1941, but only 22 were fully operational at the time. Throughout 1940 the Allies were managing to cope (albeit with a slow decline) for the tonnage sunk by Germany (200,000 tons produced compared to 250,000 tonnes sunk, not sure how much tonnage Britain had available, but certainly enough to suffice).

        By 1943 the Battle of the Atlantic had been lost for Germany's U-Boats as Britain alone produced 643,000 tonnes in the first quarter of the year, combined with US producing 1.7 million tonnes in the same period. By mid-1943 U-Boat losses started to outnumber production.

  11. 11
    daniel rugeroni says:

    I agree that WWI was the propelent to the great changes. It pushed the development of all the inventions already at hand:airplanes, machineguns, the improvement in wounded treatment, submarine, etc. and brought tanks into play. It also left the seed for WWII b the implementation of the Versailles Treaty and the future conflicts in the Middle East with the fall of the Turkish Empire.

  12. 12
    James Bruce says:

    World War II by far. Who is remembered or known by most, Winston Churchill or David George? Asquith or Chamberlain? Wilhelm II or Hitler?

    WWII terms and events are still used today by politicians, "The Axis of Evil" speech by former President Bush, the Battle Of Britain romanticised by the British National Party and many more.

    The cost of lives, the reasons for such devastation and genocide are remembered by people all over the world, with both positive and negative effects on how people think and see history.

    Looking at how the world works today, WWII has had the biggest impact. Nuclear weapons would not have come about if the Second World War never happened. It allowed the US to have the biggest economy in the world, having around 50% of the world's GNP(could be GDP, not sure) in 1945 and going on to win the "Cold War" and be the country it is today.

    • 12.1
      jp says:

      WWII would not have occurred if not for WWI. Taken by itself, there would be a strong argument, but regarding the century as a whole, it cant be so certain.

    • 12.2
      jp says:

      By the way, of all those World War II figures you mentioned, which one of them did not cut their teeth in WWI nor had any influence in WWII?

      • 12.2.1
        James Bruce says:

        Cut their teeth? Sorry I don't understand the phrase (I'm British so if thats an American phrase thats why I don't understand it)
        Many events precipitated WWII, WWI included but that doesn't undermine its impact on the modern world. Why do nuclear weapons exist? WWII. Why has the USA become the empire it has today? WWII. What has caused serious controversy and debate that still lasts to this day? WWII. What ignited the Cold War? WWII. What has had a lasting impact on countries all across the world? WWII.
        WWI may have helped this to happen, but without WWII, these massive impacts wouldn't have happened.

      • 12.2.2
        James Bruce says:

        Wilhelm II had no influence in WWII as he died in 1941 and had no control over Germany since 1918 (?)

  13. 13
    bob says:

    The rising of Adolph Hitler to power. Every political event that has happened since 1933 can be directly or indirectly traced to back yo Hitler.

  14. 14
    The Forester says:

    The invention of the transistor. Without it, modern society the world over be impossible. How many of you can imagine a world with no computers, Internet, cell phones, including those old enough to remember the world before those inventions (all made possible by the transistor)?

  15. 15
    jp says:

    We're going to have to agree to disagree on this one, James. Its undisputable that one cannot talk about WWII without talking about WWI. I know it's beyong the scope of this thread, but I would be interested in knowing what you think would have been the ultimate cause of the wars of the 20th century.

    • 15.1
      James Bruce says:

      Why is it 'undisputable'? They are two separate wars. As I said before, WWI had its part in igniting WWII, but WWII has had much more of an impact on modern day than WWI (although I'm starting to think that the end of the Cold War has had much more of a lasting impact now)

      WWI was caused by the German general staff's persistence demands that the sooner Germany goes to the war, the better, and when the opportunity came the Kaiser was virtually forced into it. The Austrian leaders wanting Serbia or to weaken it, gave them that opportunity.

      WWII was caused the German and Japanese governments and leaders.

      • 15.1.1
        Mike says:

        Actually, one can make the case that the Franco-Prussian war, WWI & WWII were all one war with "rest periods" between.

  16. 16
    Bill Wilfong says:

    Instant communications. This led to a greater understanding around the world. It has helped elect world leaders and topple governments.

  17. 17
    Chris Parente says:

    I believe everyone makes a compelling argument. Yet, I believe that the First World War, including the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, was the paramount event that set the tone for the rest of the century. It was the epitome of flawed diplomacy, nationalism gone too far which caused social catastrophe in many countries, and caused a peace that could not be sustained because the victors knew not how to handle or draw up an adequate, lasting peace given the unprecedented amount of destruction and loss of life that had taken place. Arguably, the only way to satisfy the inhabitants of the victorious nations was to bring about a peace such as this, nonetheless it was doomed from the start. They have learned the lesson that "victory" should have been enough.
    The war brought on countless increases in medicine, and weapons technology and doctrine, strategy (Blitzkrieg). The war caused revolutions in Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. In Asia, the reassigning of German possessions to the Japanese increased Sino-Japanese hostilities which contributed to Japan's further expansion in the 1930's and later conflict, and stalemate, in Korea. The war set the stage from Lenin and the Bolsheviks to take power in Russia and led to a failed Allied effort in the Russian Civil War which led to Soviet rule for 60 plus years in much of Eastern Europe and in many other areas around the world, many of which still exist. Not to mention, the perceived and literal Cold War which existed for 60 plus years and arguably still exists with Russia and of course…China. Also, not to mention the spread of Communism to Vietnam which caused much war and genocide there and throughout Southeast Asia.
    The peace was a direct cause to the rise of Fascism; in Italy with Mussolini, Spain with Franco (plus the Spanish Civil War), and Hitler in Germany which brought on WWII in Europe and the rise of the Axis Powers. It brought about the failed and massively flawed League of Nations, which led to American isolationism which was also a cause of German rearmament and expansion in the 1930's. Plus, self-determination in Europe and the failed states of Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia (which disbanded violently in war and genocide in the 1990's).
    And if all this was not enough, the destruction of the "sick man of Europe"…the Ottoman Empire, which brought on power vacuums in Israel/Palestine (which ever you prefer, they are still at it) and throughout the Middle East, and terrorism throughout the same region and throughout the world, which has combated everything from Soviet invasions in Afghanistan, and Jihad directly involving the states of India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Spain, the UK, the US (9/11), etc…. I can go on if you like.

    • 17.1
      Mike says:

      Actually I think you can make a good case for tha American intervention into WWI. Without this, the war would have finished shortly due to mutual exhaustion. This would have given a more sustainable peace than Versailles, making WWII much less likely.

    • 17.2
      fleadh says:

      Good answer!

    • 17.3
      Vicki L says:

      What an incredibly detailed explanation. I believe you prove your argument. Excellent. Thanks for the "great" read.

  18. 18
    Robert K says:

    The Paris peace conference of 1919

  19. 19
    Ceaman says:

    I am always worried about the word indisputable in any discussion. It means I am right, and no matter what you say my stand in the discussion is the only one of merit.

  20. 20
    Rudy says:

    WW1. After the war the real estate of Europe was changed.The allies placed strict production of weapons of war and required payment for the war putting Germany in an economical depression which gave an opportunity for the Nazies to gain power that brought on WWII. This in turn led to the Cold War.

  21. 21
    Jazza says:

    The great depression was the biggest event, without the stockmarket callapse Hitler wouldn't have come to power and world war 2 would never have started. If it weren't for the great depression, and subsiquent WW2 america wouldn't have beome a moajor superpower and many of the old empires would have remained for some time longer.

  22. 22
    Dennis Gleason says:

    When Col. Paul Tibbets dropped that first A-bomb, the genie was out of the bottle and no way to put him back in. Conventional war was capable of killing millions. Thermal Nuclear War has the potential to kill us all. (Six and one half billion).

  23. 23
    RayK says:

    The computer

  24. 24
    Operator1968 says:

    I have to agree with Leslie, the Wright brothers' flight at Kittyhawk had the greatest impact. It led to the space age and so many other inventions / discoveries.

    • 24.1
      Daniel Culp says:

      Yes, but without WWI to accelerate the development of flight, we would still be seriously low-tech in our flight today. Not to mention that we owe the invention of modern rocketry to WWII.

  25. 25
    Richard says:

    How about the continuing march toward democracy? the end of abolsute monarchy, fascism, communism and many dictatoriships in all of the world's countries that have any respect for private property and human dignity.

    • 25.1
      Shooter1001 says:

      I don't believe that mankind is marching in the direction of democracy if by democracy you mean the rule of law, individual basic rights & freedoms (speech, religion, information, religion, to bear arms), individual protected property rights and an elected government of, by and for the people. All reasonably free from corruption.

  26. 26
    Kenneth says:

    Robert Godards use of the first liquid propellants in rockets that led to Von Bauns famous v2 rocket and eventually the first american manned rockets.

  27. 27
    James Creeden says:

    Nobody has even alluded to the assasination of John F. Kennedy
    on November 22,1963. Around a month before he was killed he had signed an order to bring our advisors home from Southeast Asia
    After his death Lyndon Johnson"quietly recinded" that order
    Lets think about the consequences of that event…..

    • 27.1
      Shooter1001 says:

      JFK was a philandering, sick, weak president who was not as well liked as his assassination has caused history to record. There were genuine fears for his safety in Dallas. Those fears were borne out but not from the side of the political spectrum one would have thought at the time. For the first few hours after his shooting, everyone was thinking some right-wing crazy did it. Oswald was a Communist though that part of his history was underplayed. Sort of like saying that bin Ladin was not a real Christian.

      • 27.1.1
        ash says:

        your right bin Ladin wasn't a real christian he was a Muslim

  28. 28
    william hart says:

    the british mandate in "palestine," and the reformation of the jewish homeland.

  29. 29
    Jim Ross says:

    The Atomic Bomb.

  30. 30
    Doug Erickson says:

    Atomic wepons

  31. 31
    Green Bay Packers says:

    Hitler being born

  32. 32
    Olly says:

    My Birth!!!!!!!!!!

  33. 33
    lyndon says:

    The Pill in 1960. Now women could have sex without worrying about complications 9 months later. Get a" life".

  34. 34
    Wayne says:

    The introduction of mass production of the Petrol / Gasoline powered motor vehicle. Seen and loved now as symbol of freedom, hated and rightfully considered dangerous at the time of conception. Only to be loud and dirty, a burden of infrastructure funding globally and a reason for wars seeking control of oil demand. O, what an impact it has had socially on the worlds population, most people now do not even consume alcohol because they fear they may feel or have the need to drive somewhere, they drink coffee instead. Its not freedom to me and i consider it to be the life changing event in the 20th.

  35. 35
    Aryeh says:

    WW2 that is allies winning and axis powers loosing, had it been the other way around the world would have been totally changed possibly forever.

  36. 36
    Matt says:

    By far the Assasination of Arch Duke Franz Fredinand and the beging of the first World War every event since including the atomic bomb have been influced by the first world war and the treaty of Versailles.

    • 36.1
      Dudley Ristow says:

      Excellent answer Matt – from that assassination came WW1, the rise of the USSR, the Versailles Treaty, the ascent of Hitler, WW2, atom bomb, the Cold War, the establishment of the State of Israel, the rise of Islamic extremism, 9/11, the Iraq and Afghan War . . . .

  37. 37
    Matt says:

    There is no doubt if German land forces made it on to mainland UK this would have been a major setback for the Allied powers but nothing more. Hitler at this time was already commited to opening a second front in the east which would have put him in a similar situation as in WW1. However this would have most likely resualted in American intervention to liberate the isles well before they would be completly over run. This would most certainly have extended the legth of the war dramaticly but it wouldnt have changed the end result.

  38. 38
    anthony says:

    The invention of the internet for sure, we are just starting to see the effect as were having a discussion due to it right now.

  39. 39
    Keaton* says:

    World War I. Not specifically the assassination of arch Duke Franze Fredinand, for it most likely would have happened anyways. However nearly all the historical events roots in the 20th centuries can be traced back to The Great War. The rise of communism (created as an outcome of the Russian Civil War, caused by military defeats to the Germans, Famines because of rationing, and a doubt in the Tsar's leadership) which grew ideological competition and the cold war, World War II (Caused by German defeat in WWI, resulting in the Treaty of Versailles, and a desperate Germany, taken advantage of by Hitler's Nazi's) and the decline of empires, and rise of national self-determination. This event is responsible for the creation of numerous countries, such as Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and many Balkan regions, because of the destruction, or break-down, of countries such as Germany, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia/USSR.

  40. 40
    allison h says:

    i agree with you there are many wars going on as we speak the atomic bomb was a very interesting invention if you will but the inventor also said how he was sorry for inventing it that it has killed so many people and that when they first used it he was not expecting it to do that much damage and now that is has bin invented other country's have it to so its like a game pretty much you shot we bomb but they have bombs to so is anyone really ever safe even in there own homes i for one think not we are all in danger no matter where we are.

  41. 41
    Joyce Shifugan says:

    The Watergate Scandal of 1971 by Richard Nixon.

  42. 42
    Dianne says:

    The Russian Revolution of 1917.

    It was the overthrow of the wealthiest monarchy in the world – the Romanovs. The ruling monarchy controlled the most wealth of any other country – and the Royal line was entirely wiped out – brutally murdered after being denied asylum by all of those he asked protection from. The Czar's wife, Alexandra, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. All of their children were murdered as well – by those who took control of Russia and the Romanov wealth.
    And so was born the Soviet State.
    From monarchy to communism in a very short time – the Rusian Revolution was a major event that should not be overlooked as a turning point in history, not just the 20th — it overturned centuries of tradition and wealth.



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