Thanksgiving, 2017

We have officially entered the “Holiday Season.” I started writing this post on Thanksgiving, which will be followed by Christmas and the start of the New Year. These are supposed to be joyous times. At this point, I have seen a lot of Thanksgivings come and go. For most of my life, it was easy to think of things for which I could truly feel grateful. This year, that’s not the case. Of course, there are things for which I am grateful, but my concerns about the state of our nation have put a damper on my gratitude. This is, of course, not the first time I have had concerns about the state of our nation.

I am old enough to remember the assassination of President Kennedy. I was walking into a class on Shakespeare when I first heard the news. One of my fellow students said, “The President has been shot.” The first word out of my mouth was, “Bullshit.” There was a general uproar, but once class started, we focused on course material. By the time my next class started, we knew how serious things were, and the class was cancelled. It wasn’t long after that when we entered the time of student protests, not only about growing concerns about Civil Rights, which were exacerbated by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also about the expanding war in Vietnam. Although I remained primarily focused on my course work, I participated in the student protests increasingly common at that time. I was friends with well-know radicals. Then I was drafted.

Although I was married and a full-time student, my draft board was in California, and I was attending school in Illinois. That put me relatively high on the list. When called, I went, even if reluctantly. All my older male relatives had served in the military, and most had seen combat in WWII or Korea. My first duty station was Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. While I was still in basic training, we were asked, “Who here can type?” I held up my hand. I didn’t know it at the time, but that sealed my fate: I became a “clerk/typist” and eventually a personnel specialist. I was a company clerk at Ft. Campbell. From there I was transferred to Ft. Sam Houston, where I was assigned to Headquarters & Headquarters Company, where I was a personnel specialist for what at the time was the largest company in the Army. After a time there, I was transferred to Long Binh, Vietnam, which was my last duty station.

I went back to graduate school in Illinois, where I discovered that many of those who had been my “friends” before I went in the Army, rejected me because I had served. The Vietnam War was grinding down to an awful end, but the bitter feelings about the war remained. While I was in the service, the Civil Rights movement had been gaining momentum, and political unrest continued unabated. Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon followed. This is not to say that everything was bad. Throughout, the music was really good and remains the music I listen to most often. My studies were interesting, and I made new friends. I enjoyed my literature classes and had a teaching assistantship focused on business communication. In general, I had good teachers, good professional mentors, and ended up having a good career. My son and his family are doing well. In terms of my personal life, I can’t complain.

The fly in the ointment is the current state of our politics. The world currently has a number of major problems that desperately cry out for attention, and most are being exacerbated by politics. I consider global climate change a very serious problem, for example. It is not the cause of our other global problems, but undoubtedly amplifies them. Throughout human history, different cultures have gone to war because of the belief that “our religion is better than yours,” and that certainly hasn’t changed. Different religious sects (in Christianity, Islam, and even Buddhism) are willing to kill and die for beliefs that Jonathan Swift called the Big Enders and Little Enders, based on which end of a soft-boiled egg should be opened first.

The underlying idea is that “my tribe” deserves more of the world’s wealth and resources than “your tribe.” Expanding populations increase the likelihood that “tribes” will encounter other “tribes” and consider them competitors for resources, basically range wars writ large. I have lost track of the number of places the U.S. has troops stationed and the number of those places with active military conflict. It seems to me that, at this point in human history, we should have figured out that continuing to do the same thing expecting different results is not logical. What to do instead is not clear. A lot of people seem to have voted for Donald Trump because they thought that he would restore the U.S. to a state of former (but now lost) “greatness.” If anything, however, President Trump is making things worse and encouraging his followers to do the same.

The real question is what can we do that would contribute to solving the problem rather than making things worse. Those of us who remember protesting the War in Vietnam and who were active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s have become discouraged about social activism. At this point, however, I do not have an alternative to recommend. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand and the recognition that in “The Hollow Men,” T. S. Eliot said that the world would end, not with a bang, but a whimper.

Comments are closed.