No one is arguing against this year's status as "terrible." It very much is and we'll be feeling the effects of what's happened for generations to come. Just want to make that clear before we proceed.
2020 has been rough on innumerable people, all over the country, extending its awful reach over the world. While we can live in the awful of the now, it's still critical to understand everything else we've overcome and bounced back from. This knowledge allows us to comprehend how to move beyond and what next steps to take.
Still, there's been some rough years.
Reddit user, u/child_sized_tequila, wanted to hear if we really have it all that bad when they asked:
Oh Yeah. THAT Year...
The last quarter of 2001 was more intensely miserable. 2020 misery is more spread out and not quite as terrifying.
2001 was akin to living in a beehive just after the rock hits.
Let's Get This Perspective Out Of The Way
None of them. Seriously, I can't remember a year this bad. Not even 9/11 was this bad, we're closing in on the number of daily deaths from Coronavirus being as many or more than that single day in 2001.
But, I'm also relatively young, and I'm also a white man. I'm sure there's been far worse sh-t farther back, especially if you are anything other than white or male.
Killed Over Nothing
Relaying this for my dad and stepdad :
They both basically said during the late 60s/early 70s:
"There were a few years during the Vietnam War, and onward when we didn't know if we would be nuked into oblivion, killed by police, or if racial tensions would bubble over into massacres in the street. If all of these idiots just wore a mask, we would be fine. Otherwise most of our problems haven't changed much" - Dad
"Kids were being murdered by police on campus for protesting, and I came to draft age at a time when it was effectively a death-sentence for an 18-year-old kid. Riots were destroying cities, and we thought we were going to have an atomic bomb dropped on us. You had to live your life in a constant state of panic depending on where you lived. I don't mind watching Netflix all day, but everything else has become exhausting." - Stepdad
My dad and I work from home and my stepdad is retired. We text all day.
At Least There Was Butter
My great-grandfather used to tell me about 1944, when it was the Hunger Winter in the Netherlands. There was almost no food and most Dutch people either died or had to live off tulip bulbs. My great-grandfather was lucky though, he knew how to make butter, so he was able to trade food and was off less terrible than most people. It's truly terrible to hear about it, especially when you realise your very own grandpa was born in this time
When You Become An Adult
As a kid growing up through the last bits of the cold war was pretty terrifying once I learned what nuclear weapons were capable of.
2001 after the attacks...but at least we were more together as a nation.
2008 was scarier for me because it was the first real economic crisis of my adulthood, now I'm old hat at this stuff. Now things are a continuous dumpster fire and I just pull out some gallows humor with that thousand yard stare in my eyes.
I imagine the great depression was a bad time to live. Think about how people from that time still hoard everything they can. It becomes part of you. I had some Dutch relatives in Indonesia who were captured by the Japanese and put into prison camps during WWII. That was probably worse. They had kids, too. I remember reading the letters describing their time (I guess they must have eventually been released) and how they tried to make it fun for the children while the adults feared constantly for their lives.
Rough, But Maybe Not As Bad Yet
The year 1970. People dying or being maimed for life (both mentally and physically) in a stupid, nonsensical war. Richard Nixon President. The government refusing to listen to hundreds of thousands of people protesting the war, and people of all sorts not just college kids and hippies.
I participated in a HUGE protest in DC and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue with a lot of other people, holding the hands of my two kids. "We are speaking to our government. Never forget."
1963 was pretty bad with the Kennedy assassination.
But I don't think anything in my 79 years can compare to this year. It's just horrible in so many ways.
Assassination After Assassination
1968-1969. Started with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. It was a military disaster for the North Vietnamese, but a big surprise to the American public - they had been told the war was effectively won. And from there it just got worse.
Student riots. City riots. MLK was assassinated in early April. Then in early June, I was on a South Vietnamese hilltop firebase. One of our less English-proficient officers came up to the American advisers in the afternoon. "You know Kennedy, ya? They shoot him!" The three of us looked at him. I said, "Yeah Đại Úy (Captain), back in 1963. So?"
"NO!" he said, "They shoot him now!" Then he got frustrated with us and stomped off. Weird. What's up with the Đại Úy? We couldn't get American radio (AFVN) in the daytime, but later that night we found out what he was talking about. Another Kennedy? WTF is going on back home?
I got back on leave in December. America was nuts. I couldn't walk through the airport without starting a fight. I wasn't fighting. Someone would want to yell at me, and someone else would start yelling at him, and eventually they'd forget I was there - because I wasn't. My instructions were to keep walking. The war had come home. Racial justice had graduated to racial war.
It was almost a relief to get back to Vietnam. Seemed saner. Bad year for the USA. 1969 was only better because some of the things people were expecting to happen, didn't. But it wasn't much better.
Bombing of Serbia 1999, NATO was only supposed to bomb military objects, but they bombed hospitals, markets, random populated areas... I was in the hospital with my dad when the sirens came on the whole hospital went to the basement, lucky the hospital wasn't hit, after the danger my dad drove us back he told me not to look out the window, being a kid I did look only to see innocent people dead along the whole street as the flea market was hit on a weekend...
I am 25yo now I still have nightmares about it occasionally. Also NATO used prohibited weapons with uranium which also caused a lot of ppl to get cancer from the radiation years after...
Through The Generations
For my maternal grandfather - 1914, when the crowned heads of Europe and their Ministers thought it would be a good idea to have a great big war.
For my mother - 1946, wandering around as an orphan in a "displaced persons" camp.
For my older cousins - 1962, the Cuban missile crisis was some scary sh-t.
THIS Is The Worst? After All That?
I went through the Viet Nam war, Watergate, a president who was never elected (Ford), a president who had a good heart but was totally ineffective (Carter), hanging chads, the aids crisis, George W. Bush as a puppet president, 9/11, and the 2008 recession where my investments lost half their value.
This is the worst year I've ever lived through.
Quite A Few Off The Top Of Your Head
I'm 63, and have lately been thinking about this very question. For sheer one-thing-after-another craziness, I'd have to say 1968 was a bad time. Assassinations (RFK, MLK), massive riots so much worse than what's currently going on, Vietnam War (My Lai Massacre, Tet Offensive), heroin epidemic, a very divided nation, and more. I was a kid, but I knew things were very bad.
That said, 2020 is the worst year for this country that I've lived through. I'd have to say that if the COVID-19 pandemic had taken place in 1968, people would have masked up and done what it took to get things under control. There was a decent public health system back then and people believed in it and supported it.
I don't lose sight of the fact that, from around 1810-1940, there were lots of awful presidents, many financial scandals and market collapses, and huge injustices for minorities. I just wasn't around then to see it firsthand. Oh, yeah--2001 was not great, not only because of 9/11, but because it set the stage for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We may have have had business to take care of in Afghanistan, but Iraq was a preventable disaster that we're still dealing with.
This Is Our Nam
I agree Viet Nam and late 60s were violent and there was great unrest. What i see today that makes it worse and potentially more explosive is the income and wealth disparity.
There Has Been A Rough Lead Up To All This, Hasn't There?
2002 the dot-com bubble burst and I lost a cushy job, that was pretty bad.
2008 great recession happened, again was laid off, that was pretty bad too.
2019 was awful. I found out my recently deceased father had an entire other family. I guess technically, we were his other family. Met the ones he abandoned (my new older half siblings) last summer and it was incredibly awkward and for some reason left me hollow and extremely full of guilt.
We're Not Quite That Bad...Yet.
I'm not an oldie but I'd imagine the years between 1939-1945 were pretty rough.
Everytime I feel overwhelmed by Covid, I remember my grandmother lived through the Spanish flu, WW1 and WW2
Remember: We're Not The Only Ones Who Can Suffer
My parents still think the economic crash of 90s that happened in Finland was worse, and in Finland it killed more people in the form of suicides than Corona has thus far.
I was just born around that time. And lots of people just lost everything. Companies folded left and right. Loan intrests were crushing people.
Then right after that we got dotcom bubble.
Yeah. Finland never recovered from that actually. I don't remember the exact numbers but the percentage of people working has never reached what we had before the 90s crash. Remember reading about that when I was doing some uni work on how bad the subprime crisis was compared to ones before it. Turns out Finland did pretty well during the subprime crash.
Really Makes You Ponder How We All Survived Without Phones
My dad told stories of his childhood that I find horrifying. Probably somewhere around 1940, he was a child in what was then, small town in the rural American south. His dad was a salesman, and would travel for weeks at a time, with no one knowing when he may return. They did not have phones. The only way they could get anywhere was walking. Once, it was winter, and they were down to their last bucket of coal. He and his sisters and his mother had gone out into their yard, and picked up every last scrap they could find. They had a coal burning stove, and that was the only way they could keep warm or cook.
They had no idea when his dad would return, and if he returned, how much money he would have. They had no way to call to ask anyone else for help, even if they did, everybody they knew was so poor back then it would have been very difficult to get help. When they were literally down to the last few pieces of coal, the church that they would frequent when their dad was in town, and able to drive them, Sent a truckload of coal to get dumped in their yard. My dad told me that to this day, he still believes that it is an absolute godsend miracle that that happened.
But, Really, Has It Been Worse Than This In The Last Hundred Years?
Okay a topic I am perfect for.
I'm 67 so I've seen a lot. 1968 was previously the worst year I'd ever seen because of race riots, oppression, my older friends getting killed in Vietnam. I've been through the Dotcom bust and a couple of stock market crashes they seem to recover. Challenger was shocking 9/11 was more shocking, I was only 10 for the Kennedy assassination but I did see Ruby shoot Oswald on live TV.
But they are all squat compared to 2020 and it's not even close.