The 10 Biggest Political Moments From The 20th Century

By Kiley Whittal on June 22 2020 in Politics

Image credit: MicroOne
Image credit: MicroOne
  • JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. The US, and the world, reeled, and Lyndon B. Johnson became President.
  • The December afternoon that John Lennon was shot outside of his New York apartment by Mark David Chapman created an event whose reach went far past the entertainment industry.
  • On July 16th, the research done by the Manhattan Project culminated in the first successful test of a nuclear device, codenamed Trinity, in the New Mexico desert. What the success of this test meant was that a plutonium-based nuclear weapon was ready to be prepared for use by the US

The 20th century saw many infamous political events. Some occurances, however, might not appear directly realted to politics, but had incredibly important impacts on the political sphere. Travel, pop-culture, and technology all deeply impact the lives of the electorate; politicians exist to serve the electorate - by necessity, world events affect politics.

10. Production of the Assembly Line  Automobile - 1913

Most people know the story of Henry Fords’ Model T being the first assembly line automobile, and how it revolutionized the availability of cars. However, the assembly line vehicle had major implications in politics, as well. The newfound relative ease of travel allowed the pace of communication to increase dramatically - imagine how much longer your workflow would take if you could only meet with one person a day, week, or month. Suddenly political leaders could communicate face-to-face with each other much more quickly, and as a result, the pace of progress leapt forward.

9. Hitler Elected to the Nazi Party - 1921

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, June 1940 (NARA)
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, June 1940 (NARA)

Adolf Hitler often  brings to mind the 1940 and World War II-era times, when in fact, Hitler had been leading the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party) for over two decades before WWII. Hitler was named leader of the Nazi party in 1921, but 1933 marked the full transition to Hitlers’ essentially totalitarian rule. The period from 1933-1945 saw the consolidation of Hitlers’ power and the human rights atrocities of the Holocaust, bringing a global shift in political behaviour. 

8. World War II - 1932-1945

German soldiers invade Poland in armored and motorized divisions in Sept. 1939. It was the beginning of World War 2. in Europe. Image credit: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com
German soldiers invade Poland in armored and motorized divisions in Sept. 1939. It was the beginning of World War 2. in Europe. Image credit: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com

The Second World War permanently altered the political, and physical, landscape of the world. With little time to recover from World War I, the global community yet again was forced to re-align and come to terms with a new paradigm. Economic recovery, reparations, and rebuilding cost each nation differently, and many took several decades to regain a new sense of normal. As of 2019, Reuters reported there to be opposing claims that Germany may still owe reparation payments to Poland - nearly 75 years later, tensions created by WWII are still visible. 

7. Detonation of the First Atomic Bomb - 1945

Photograph taken at .025 seconds after the Trinity initial detonation shows a plasma dome. Manhattan Project, World War 2. Alamogordo, New Mexico. Image credit: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com
Photograph taken at .025 seconds after the Trinity initial detonation shows a plasma dome. Manhattan Project, World War 2. Alamogordo, New Mexico. Image credit: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com

On July 16th, the research done by the Manhattan Project culminated in the first successful test of a nuclear device, codenamed Trinity, in the New Mexico desert. What the success of this test meant was that a plutonium-based nuclear weapon was ready to be prepared for use by the US. This first successful test allowed two nuclear bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - events that shocked the world to its core. The implications from the Trinity test almost cannot be overstated; Hiroshima and Nagasaki instantly changed not only present day Japan, but also generations to come. The impact on the rest of the global community was also grave. It cost an unspeakable amount, but we learned the irreversible seriousness of using nuclear weapons. The international community puts an enormous amount of resources, diplomacy, and effort into nuclear governance - Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are good examples of international political cooperation that sprung from this event.

6. First Journey in Outer Space - 1961

Photograph of the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin at a press conference during his visit to Finland.
Photograph of the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin at a press conference during his visit to Finland.

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was the first human to journey in outer space. A Soviet Cosmonaut, Gagarin would show the world that space was a possibility, and humankind was able to touch it. Space intrigues us on an almost ineffable level, so Gagarins’ feat was not only deeply inspiring to the global community as a whole, but also marked an important scientific moment. Space flight has evolved since Yuri first orbited the earth - our gaze is perpetually outward, journeying further, discovering the darkness that is outer space, all the while doing so because the first journey in outer space proved to us that we could do it. Today, the International Space Station is a permanent fixture in space, and a reminder that we achieved this feat of humanity with a multilateral cooperative effort, requiring diplomacy, communication, and new allies in the political community. 

5. Assassination of John Fitzgeral Kennedy (JFK) - 1963

Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. Image credit: Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News/Public domain
Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. Image credit: Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News/Public domain

“The Shot Heard Around the World”, “The Grassy Knoll” - these are words that are nearly ubiquitous in the popular lexicon. JFK was not only a celebrity politician, but also considered to be a pop-culture icon, as well. JFK was a Democrat, but regardless if you agreed with his politics or not, his reach into the lives of Americans cannot be denied. From Marilyn Monroe to The Bay of Pigs, the presidential term of JFK is marked with infamous events. JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. The US, and the world, reeled, and Lyndon B. Johnson became President. Amidst the chaos surrounding the assassination of JFK, various conspiracy theories made their way into the American consciousness; accusations of a false flag operation paramount among them. The American people were grieving the loss of their President, and the effects of that were far-reaching. 

4. Assassination of Jon Lennon - 1980

Yoko Ono and Lennon in March 1969. Image credit: Joost Evers/Anefo
Yoko Ono and Lennon in March 1969. Image credit: Joost Evers/Anefo

The December afternoon that John Lennon was shot outside of his New York apartment by Mark David Chapman created an event whose reach went far past the entertainment industry. Lennon had a global, devoted fanbase that were devastated. As Lennon advanced in his career he began to use his celebrity to discuss political views. Despite being a British citizen, Lennon was active in US politics, campaigning against US involvement in the Vietnam War, Nixon, and for hard left policies. Lennon was a polarizing figure, and his assassination turbo-charged anti-war activism.

3. The Internet Becomes Public - 1993

Internet governance remains a hot topic today, and few things in the 20th century had as diverse and unforeseen legislative complications as making the internet public on April 30, 1993. Free speech, hate crimes, intellectual property, obscenity law, age of consent, harassment, constitutional rights, human rights  - the list is constantly evolving regarding how we handle the legislative implications of the internet. Philanthropy, charitable giving, e-commerce, digital activism - it is not just the negative that require legislation and planning. The internet, which began as a neat tool to connect people, has evolved to require constant attention from politicians, in one way or another.

2. Fall of the Berlin Wall - 1989

A crane removes a section of the Wall near Brandenburg Gate on 21 December 1989. Image credit: SSGT F. Lee Corkran/Public domain
A crane removes a section of the Wall near Brandenburg Gate on 21 December 1989. Image credit: SSGT F. Lee Corkran/Public domain

The Berlin Wall, a symbol of the divisions of the Cold War, was open to traffic back and forth in 1989, with the official destruction being in 1991. Following World War II, the German city of Berlin was divided into sectors. The Berlin wall was constructed to stem the rising flow of refugees from Soviet-controlled East Berlin, to Allied-controlled West Berlin. The Soviets saw West Berlin as a pocket of capitalism far inside what they considered Communist territory, and the Wall was a way of keeping the flow of ideas separate. When the Berlin Wall fell, geo-political arrangements in Europe, and of course Germany, changed dramatically. Leaders had to re-organize the manner in which they interacted with Germany and the soon-to-be former USSR.

1. Popularization of Cellular Communication - 1973

Mobile Phone evolution
Mobile Phone evolution

The official ‘date’ here is subjective, but what isn’t is how wireless communication has changed the global political community. April 3, 1973 Motorola made the first public mobile phone call. Politicians were now able to communicate nearly instantly with their staff and peers. Intercontinental communication became routine, and similar to the mass production of automobiles, the pace of work again leapt forward. From the early days of the internet, to todays’ world where there are global online communities of every kind, social media connects us all, and political leaders regularly use platforms like Twitter and Facebook to communicate with their electorate, wireless has changed everything.

More in Politics