Category Archives: History

Happy Birthday, America!!!

On this 4th of July, this day of celebration of the birth of our great nation, I’d like to take a few minutes to…sound a little less pompous.

Today is the 4th of July!!!  Happy birthday, United States of America!!!  You’re still looking pretty good for a 240 years old.

Jokes aside, our country has endured for 240 years.  Think about that.  240 years.  That’s 12 generations of people who have lived, loved, worked and raised families here. And 12 generations of people that all too often have had to fight and die to defend this country.

I’m not going to talk about that, though.  There are tons of people who will tell you all about it much better than I can.  What I’m going to talk about is how I feel on this 240th Birthday of the United States of America.

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. – Benjamin Franklin

Adams and Jefferson Singing the Declaration

First off, notice that I said “United States of America” and not “America”.  Think about that difference.  Almost no other country on earth declares in their very name that they are independent states working together as a group.  Think about that for a minute.  The definition of state is “a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government.”  In other words, a country.  So essentially, the United States of America is a cooperative group of 50 independent countries working together for the common good.

It’s a (pardon the pun) revolutionary idea.  And unlike a lot of other revolutionary idea, it’s a very good one.  One that has stood the test of time and proven itself.  So much so that we’re now seeing other collections of States joining together for common good…with common laws, free (as in unrestricted) travel and easier inter-State trade – the European Union or the United Arab Emirates come to mind.

a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another

Second, freedom is essential to the survival of the United States of America.  There was another Union of States in recent memory that didn’t have freedom – no unrestricted travel, no local autonomy.  They didn’t make it.  That country, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, dissolved because they weren’t free.  They only paid lip service to the idea of a Union of States…and so they failed.

As I sit here in front of my computer typing this, I’m aware of those freedoms.  I can say pretty much anything I want to about our elected leaders (also known as our employees) without fear of retribution.  The only thing I have to avoid is saying anything that falls under the legal definition of slander.  And even if I do cross that line, it’s a civil matter and I’ll get sued.  I won’t get arrested and thrown in prison for it.  Take a second and think about that…and how it’s been throughout history…and how it is in so many other countries.  And then thank your Maker that you were born in or able to emigrate to the United States of America.

Give us your tired, your poor…

Which brings me to my third and last thought for today.  We’re all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.  As I’ve pointed out before, “Even the Native Americans originally came here from somewhere else.”  We’re strong because of our melting pot heritage.  We’re strong because we are a collection of people and ideas and beliefs and faiths from all over the planet.  We’re strong because we’ve chosen to live together peacefully (usually) and work together (for the most part) toward a common good.

The Great Seal of The United States of America has the words “E  pluribus unum” inscribed on it.  That means “Out of many, One.”  One Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.  Not “with Liberty and Justice for all that are like me.”  For ALL.  For every single citizen of the United States of America, regardless of their country of birth, regardless of their faith, regardless of their skin color, regardless of their political party.  For everyone.

That freedom is what makes the United States of America the shining light that it is.  It’s the thing that makes people from all over the world want to come here.  Because we have what they don’t have.  We’re free.  Our destiny is whatever we can make it, not what some local warlord or terrorist says it is.  And as citizens of the United States of America, it’s our duty to welcome “the homeless, tempest tossed” and give them and their children the freedom they crave and the opportunity to contribute to our great nation and make it even greater.  To do anything less would be un-American and would betray the ideals that our Founding Fathers had when they declared the birth of The United States of America.

Happy birthday to us all!

Hindsight may be 20/20 but memory is blind

Oh, the Good Ole Days.  Wasn’t it great back when a loaf of bread cost .20¢ and a gallon of gas cost .25¢?  When a new car cost less than $2500.00 and a gallon of milk cost about a buck?

That was 1960.  The year I was born.  “My Three Sons”, “The Flintstones” and “The Andy Griffith Show” all debuted that year.  Chubby Checker was doing “The Twist” and Elvis was asking “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”.  The Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series and Floyd Patterson was the Heavy Weight Champ.  Looking back on it now – through “Wonder Years” re-runs if nothing else – it was a Golden Age.

This is the idealized image a lot of the Conservative Right holds out as how things ought to be now.  Dad coming home from his job.  Mom putting dinner on the table.  The kids playing outside with the other neighborhood kids.  A car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.  Life was simple.  Every family was a cross between Leave it to Beaver and Donna Reed.  Every dinner was a Norman Rockwell moment.

This is what the hard core Conservatives and the Tea Party say we need to get back to.  Except…

While bread cost .20¢ and gas cost .25¢ the average household income was only $5200.00/year.  So that $2500 car still cost almost half a year’s salary and a home cost around 2 1/2 years salary at $12,700.  And while Andy and Opie were goin’ fishin’, five US Soldiers were dying in a far off place called Vietnam.  5…a number that would grow to over 58,000 before everything was said and done.

The Unemployment Rate is 1960 was 7.1%.  As I write this, it’s 5.1%.  Martin Luther King, Jr. hadn’t marched on Washington yet and segregation was the rule of the day in the south.  The Bay of Pigs invasion was one year away; The Cuban Missile Crisis was two.  Oddly enough, by current standards the Middle East was actually fairly quiet and peaceful.

Single women could be refused a Credit Card by their bank although a married women could get one…if her husband cosigned for her.  In many states, women couldn’t serve on a jury because their main job was to be homemakers.  Also, women were considered too delicate to hear the more grisly parts of some court cases and it was feared that their natural sympathies would keep them from being objective in the jury room.

If a woman wanted an Ivy League education she was out of luck.  Most of the Ivy League Schools wouldn’t even admit women as students.  If a woman did get an education and got out into the work force, she generally got paid .59¢ for every $1.00 a man got paid…assuming she was white.  If she was black, take everything I just recounted and turn it up to 11….maybe 12.

Yep,the Good Ole Days.  When we had good old fashioned values like rampant sexual and racial discrimination.  And old fashioned economic times when the cost of living was, percentage wise, about the same as now.  Stronger Foreign Policy times when we were getting involved in a war that would kill more Americans that both Gulf Wars combined.  A time with the Cold Ware was in full swing and school kids watched films teaching them to duck and cover if the Commies dropped the bomb.

OK, so the 60’s weren’t all that great.  But what about the’50s!  Now there was a real Golden Age.  No hippies, no drugs, no Vietnam.  It was great!  Sure, it was.  Instead of hippies we had beatnicks.  Drugs were already a problem but hadn’t made it into the papers yet and instead of Vietnam we had Korea with 33,000+ caualties (1.2 million if you include North and South Koreans and Chinese).  Blacks and women didn’t have even the rights they had in 1960 and McCarthyism was in full swing.  What’s not to like?

Mind you, there’s a lot about the 60’s (my childhood) that I miss.  Lazy afternoons playing with my friends, long summer evenings chasing fireflies. sledding on snowy winter days and coming home to my Mom’s hot cocoa.  The thing that was so much better about that time compared to now is that I was a kid.  I didn’t have any idea about bills or unemployment or foreign policy.

It wasn’t that that stuff didn’t exist.  It just didn’t exist for me.  I was a kid.  But it did exist for my Dad and Mom.  They worried about it, lost sleep about it, prayed about it – the same way that I worry and lose sleep and pray about things now.  So, to me and other people of my generation it WAS a golden time.  But that’s the problem with getting nostalgic about the past.  You’re usually getting all misty eyed about a ‘good parts’ version and ignoring the bad stuff.

George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Learn your history…all of it and not just the ‘good parts’ or the parts that cater to your own fears and prejudices.  And when the fear mongers and hate mongers talk about going back to a simpler time, remind them about 1 Corinthians 13:11.  “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” and tell them it’s time to grow up.

Geography, Economics and why the Middle East is such a pain in the ass

The Middle East is in the news again…or maybe I should say it’s in the news still.  It seems to be a constant thing…probably because it is.  And it has been for a good portion of recorded history.  Take a look at this map…

That’s Russia at the top of the map, China on the right edge and France on the left edge. All that in an area roughly equivalent to North America.  Look at all the different countries, cultures and histories involved.  Now think back to High School World History and Sunday School and remember what you learned about:

Marco Polo
The Old Testament
The New Testament
The Spice and Silk Caravan routes
The Crusades
The Roman Empire
The Empire of Alexander the Great
The Persian Empire
The Mongol Empire
The Ottoman Empire

What do they all have in common? They all either happened in the Middle East or passed through there on their way to somewhere else. Simply put, up until fairly recently, a big, damn portion of Human History happened in or around the Middle East.

OK.  Fine.  But that’s all ancient history, right?  Nope.  The Ottoman Empire didn’t end until 1922.  That happened in part because they were pushed out by the British Empire during World War I.  And let’s not forget the discovery of oil in the region in 1908.

OK.  But that’s still a long time ago.  So what?  Well, then there’s World War II.  A big portion of that happened in and around the Middle East. That makes it a bit more recent.  Take the Cold War into consideration and we’re up to the 50’s and 60’s.

The oil and the Cold War were what really brought the U.S. into the Middle East.  We need oil to run our economy so we couldn’t let Communism win in the region.  Looking at things from the point of view of someone native to the area, the U.S. and the Soviet Union (and now Russia) are just the latest in a long, long, long history of people NOT from there screwing around with the people that ARE from there.

Maybe I should correct what I said earlier.  Simply put, a big, damn portion of Human History happened (and is still happening) in or around the Middle East.  Geography made the area important.  It was the natural cross-roads for caravan routes in the ancient world and that’s been continued with more modern innovations like the Suez Canal.

But the reason for all the traveling through, fighting over and drilling for oil beneath boils down to one thing.  Money.  More money has been generated in the Middle East than just about any other region on the planet.  That’s the real reason the Middle East has always been so important.

However, the game has changed.  Instead of just being pawns in someone else’s game, the locals have gotten rich enough (again) to start playing in the game themselves…and a lot of them are pissed off about how they’ve been treated throughout history and are still being treated.  This means that along with the locals trying to direct their own lives there are people that have decided that they want to direct other people’s lives as well…the same way others have been trying to direct their’s and their ancestors since time out of mind.

The thing is, they’re taking a more direct approach.  They’re trying to enforce their will on others through violence…and again, there are historical precedents whether you’re talking about the actions of Europeans and Muslims during the Crusades or the tactics of the Jewish Sicarii during the Roman Empire or the actions of the Barbary Pirates that led to the formation of the United States Navy in 1794.

But just because somebody was a murdering, thieving asshole a long time ago is no excuse for someone else to be one.  I’m not surprised some of them are pissed about how things are and have been in the Middle East.  I would be if it was me.  So would most Americans.  Imagine how we’d feel if all that fighting, looting, killing, etc was happening in the Midwest instead of the Middle East.  But nothing…NOTHING…justifies terrorism and only cowards murder innocents and unarmed civilians.  Dress it up in whatever religious or moral rhetoric you choose.  It’s still murder and the perpetrators are still cowards.

So how do we fix the problem?  At this particular point in time, the big attraction in the Middle East isn’t trade routes, it’s oil.  The locals have gotten rich selling it to the rest of the world and all the trouble makers are using some of that money to buy the weapons and cause trouble.  So to fix the problem you need to find a substitute for oil that doesn’t come from the Middle East.  Cut off the money supply and that tree with wither and die.

The only problem with that solution is that we don’t have an oil alternative.  So we need to do what the United States does better than anyone else.  Innovate and invent one.  Whether it’s bio-diesel from algae or alcohol from corn or  unobtanium from whatever-the-hell, we need it.  And we need it now!  And once we have it we need to sell the product…not the process…to the rest of the world for LESS than an equivalent amount of oil.

It won’t be easy and it wont’ be cheap but it’s the best long-term strategy for this country to fix the problem with the Middle East.  And it’ll work…until the next problem crops up there.  Sooner or later, it will.  History says so.