My latest for the Door County Advocate.
The “Traveling Back” columns that run in our pages and online have had a grim undercurrent lately. Bob Johnson, who combs through back issues of the Door County Advocate to compile the column, was the first to notice.
Back in the very earliest days of the Advocate, we were keeping an eye on what became known as the Civil War. Joseph Harris Sr. in part founded this paper so that he could keep his neighbors informed about what he viewed as a criminal rebellion and drum up support for the war effort.
In 1864, 150 years ago, the Advocate is currently following the progress of local boys who enlisted in the war effort and reporting on General Sherman’s march to Atlanta. By April, Johnny will come marching home and the nation will mourn President Lincoln.
In 1914, 100 years ago, the Advocate is reporting from afar about war and rumors of war across the ocean in Europe, which was in the beginning throes of what would become known as The Great War, the War to End All Wars.
Seventy-five years ago in 1939, the Advocate is again keeping a watchful eye on Europe again, as Germany invaded Poland and was threatening the rest of the continent.
It’s a little disconcerting to know that in the not-too-distant future, the “50 Years Ago” section of the column will begin reflecting the effects of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of August 1964, which brought the U.S. into yet another war, this time in distant Vietnam.
And while 1989 – 25 Years Ago – is best known as the year the Berlin Wall fell, ending the Cold War, within two years we were enmeshed in the Persian Gulf War.
What does it all mean? Is mankind fated to go to war every quarter century in some sort of natural cycle, like the tides or the highs and lows of the water levels on the Great Lakes? Lord knows the news from overseas is again full of saber rattling, death and destruction.
I’ve always thought war was a stupid way to settle differences. You disagree with someone, or covet their territory, and the solution is to kill as many of your opponents as possible and lay waste to the land? A less sensible solution can hardly be imagined.
Is it “human nature” to wage war? I think not. Most people I know are content to live their lives and resolve any differences far short of murder and mayhem. Traditionally Americans especially have been reluctant to take up arms except to defend themselves.
President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address in 1961, warned against what he dubbed “the military industrial complex,” an unholy alliance of warriors and war-machine manufacturers who profit from keeping us in a constant state of war and preparation for war. It does sometimes seem as if someone is moving chess pieces to ensure that those manufacturers continue to move product.
I don’t know how to stop this cycle, if it is one, except to appeal to our better angels. If it is human nature to wage war – I don’t really buy that, but if it is – people resist and conquer human nature every day, when we choose to engage in commerce rather than slug the retailer and steal what we want, for example.
At the height of the Vietnam War, there was a popular meme that went, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” I still wonder what might happen if two states huffed and puffed and called on their citizens to kill each other, and if those citizens looked at each other and replied, “I have no quarrel with you. Let’s let the huffers and puffers sort it out among themselves.”
I know this is naive. I know there are very misguided people who still think women are property and believe it’s noble to strap a bomb to yourself and explode it in a crowded marketplace, or fly commercial airliners into buildings full of innocents. And somehow those folks need to be stopped.
I just hope we come up with a better solution sometime in the next 25 years.