Poor Elijah’s Almanac: Road to Ruin | Opinion
I usually bristle at claims that we live in extraordinary times. All times are uncertain in their details and explosive at times. All times bring characters, deeds and benefits to our common history.
But there are times, whether I bristle or not, when the human world changes, suffers, or progresses extraordinarily. Sometimes we see it coming. Other times we wake up in the middle. More often than not, we don’t recognize it until it’s finished.
The Second World War was one of those historical periods, not because history is considered the history of wars, but because it was a time of extraordinary threat to centuries of progress, especially in Europe, where indescribable barbarism threatened to become the norm.
On September 3, 1939, as this barbarism crossed the Polish border, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain addressed his nation on the radio. Chamberlain had served in the government during the First World War. Having worked in the 1930s to avert another war by assuaging Hitler’s appetite for other people’s land, Chamberlain confessed that, despite his intentions, “all my long struggle to win peace has failed”. He described his failure as a “crushing blow”.
He explained that the British ambassador had delivered a note advising the German government that unless Germany agreed to withdraw from Poland by 11 a.m. a state of war would exist between Britain and the Hitler Germany. “I must tell you now,” he continued, “that no such pledge has been received and therefore this country is at war with Germany.”
You can listen to the recording of his message to his people. It’s heartbreaking. I am among those who condemn Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement as clearly wrong, but I cannot blame the man’s intent, his fear of war or the seriousness and sincerity with which he took his responsibility.
In 1916, when Europe was halfway through World War I, another leader, US President Woodrow Wilson, successfully ran for re-election with the slogan “He kept us apart.” of the war “. On April 2, 1917, a month after his inauguration, Wilson responded to Germany’s repeated attacks on American merchant ships and a secret German proposal to invade the United States through Mexico by asking Congress to declare war on Germany.
He assured Americans and the world “we desire no conquest, no domination”, that we act as “but one of the champions of the rights of mankind” and fight for what “we have always carried most to heart – for democracy”. for a world where people “have a voice in their own governments” and for “peace and security” for all nations, “civilization itself seeming to hang in the balance”.
His speech is most often remembered for its stated goal, which is that “the world must be made safe for democracy”. But I find this more personal reflection equally revealing and memorable: “It is a frightening thing to lead this great peaceful people into war.
‘Afraid’ here means ‘full of admiration and reverence’, in the same way that we would speak of an awesome responsibility.
Given the details of our four 19th century wars and our military campaigns against the indigenous nations of North America, some might reasonably dispute Wilson’s characterization that Americans are peaceful. The reality of his day, however, was that a significant portion of Americans in 1917 resisted involvement in a European war. Wilson faced the task of convincing them of the necessity of this war.
At the same time, what Wilson understood, what he grappled with, was the responsibility that comes with war, and not waging a necessary war, and the heavy burden that comes with sending men kill and die – the same burdens that sent Mr. Lincoln praying unnoticed in the back row of St. John’s Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House.
By the way, this is the same church where Donald Trump posed most noticeably with a Bible.
Chamberlain failed to avoid his war. Wilson failed to convince his generation to join the post-war League of Nations. Lincoln gave his life to unite the United States.
All were serious leaders. Everyone knew and felt their responsibility. Everyone has struggled to take on this responsibility.
Everyone has lived in one of these extraordinary times.
Many nations are rising to rise to the challenge and share the danger presented by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Many Americans seem to recognize the peril to freedom itself posed by one of the world’s foremost tyrants.
I say one of the world’s leading tyrants because there are agents of tyranny here in the United States. Some are elected, others are self-proclaimed mouths. Some are human cancers, some are just stupid, and some are both.
These pernicious actors seek their own personal and political advantage. They avoid questions that demand answers. They crawl when the times call for bravery. They provoke and exploit our disagreements. They are not serious and responsible leaders. They have no sense of the scary thing.
Too many of us who claim to love America hate too many of our fellow Americans. People who think they have nothing in common are not a people and cannot work towards a common goal.
Would another Pearl Harbor be enough to unite us?
Would today’s self-proclaimed patriots who wouldn’t wear masks to save the lives of their neighbors be willing to ration gasoline?
No, Ron Johnson. Nancy Pelosi didn’t push Putin to invade Ukraine.
No, Lauren Boebert. Justin Trudeau is not an autocrat.
Yes Donald Trump. Stupid leaders are a problem. Except a man who recommends drinking bleach probably shouldn’t call other people stupid. A president who stands with Putin in Helsinki like a dummy ventriloquist should not call other presidents weak. And an American who incites an insurrection so he can selfishly cling to power after losing an election is not trying to make America great.
He’s trying to get big at America’s expense.
It would be a bitter disappointment for our founders.
It would betray the dream we hold closest to our hearts.
That’s why we have to face the threat wherever it comes, whether on the road to Kiev or on the road to Mar-a-Lago.
Because both roads lead to the same ruinous place.
Peter Berger has been teaching English and history for 30 years. Poor Elijah would be happy to answer any letters addressed to him in the good care of the editor.