It’s the year 2020 and we start out with a hope-crushing, scary pandemic crisis and a 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Utah, followed by dozens of powerful aftershocks that last over a month. I want to remind you that it was just 20 years ago that we faced down another mysterious crisis, famously known as Y2K. The inevitable 2-digit year vs 4-digit year coding “problem” that was to occur in all computer chips and software at the turn of the century. There was panic and concern that machines and computers would mistakenly think it’s the year 1900 instead of the year 2000. There were predictions that your bank accounts would disappear, planes would fall from the sky, and toasters would burn your toast. Digital mayhem was to ensue at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000. It may seem trivial now, but there were people hiding in bunkers and many that prophesied the “end of the world” was at hand.
If you recall, in years leading up to Y2K, every man, woman, and child on the planet, every corporation, every government, every organization all bought new software and computers in order to solve the problem. It must have worked because the predicted disaster never happened. What did happen was that every man, woman, and child, every government, every organization suddenly stopped spending money on computers and software once the year turned 2000. With disaster averted there was a sudden halt to spending and this did create a very real crisis, the largest tech crash in history. Tech stocks cratered in March 2000 and dread and anxiety enveloped the markets.
Additional Unexpected Events
If that was not enough, several short months later America was entrenched in an election dispute. Remember the Hanging Chads in Florida? We all went out and voted in the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore but we didn’t know who won until late December, after many re-counts and a supreme court ruling. This made the already recessionary economy even more uncertain. Ultimately George W. Bush was sworn into office on January 20, 2001. Eight short months later America sustained its worst terrorist attack in history on September 11th, 2001. Many of you may recall that feeling of crisis and doom, we were attacked. We were in recession. Planes were not flying, fear was in the air, and markets were closed and tumbling. Nobody felt safe.
I remind you of this time period, not just to reminisce, but to highlight the fact that we recovered and our society, while shaken, returned to normal. America adapted and overcame those huge challenges. We flew on planes again, people traveled, the economy recovered, our psyche recovered. The Nation recovered.
Examples of American Exceptionalism
Looking back through decades of our country’s history, there are many examples of American exceptionalism and the amazing human spirit. It is easy to see the way Americans triumph over adversity, time and time again. When challenged and adversity strikes, we have an uncanny way of responding and defeating great peril and hardship. I will always remember the comment about America after the attack on Pearl Harbor, from our enemy at the time, Admiral Yamamoto of the Japanese Naval forces. He said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” That quote perfectly demonstrates the nature of the American people.
Another example of American greatness is the story of Jonas Salk, a New Yorker and an amazing Patriot. His brilliant research and resolve brought us the polio vaccine, which effectively stopped a terrible disease and changed the world.
I think of NASA and the American Space Program and the truly miraculous stories of deadlines, setbacks, and amazing sounds and images. On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong uttered those long-awaited words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”. Hundreds of NASA engineers and tech staff in Houston jumped up and down and cheered! Six and a half hours later, Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon and we heard those famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
I want to remind all of you that those uniquely American examples of human spirit and the accomplishments of invention and perseverance are not gone– the American tradition of compassion and RESOLVE is alive and well.
Looking back to all those events, and specifically Y2K and 9-11, just 20 years ago, it encourages me and comforts me with the knowledge that we will beat the COVID-19 crisis. We are Americans and we will rise up stronger than we were before and return to the country and society we have always known, strong, resilient, and full of RESOLVE.
President Andrew Jackson once said, “Americans are not a perfect people, but we are called to a perfect mission.” Our country has a mission in front of us now. American ingenuity will prevail and soon this crisis will be yet another human triumph!