The War to End All Wars

Hello from a Starbucks in Selinsgrove,

Hiding away and working, but trying to imagine the feelings of not only the important players on the stage in France 100 years ago, but also the simple people, those in France where much of the carnage of a trench war was fought to the families who lost loved ones in a war that was fought to stop war. Were we as countries that idealistic a century ago? Certainly I write on the Centennial of that event with the privilege of hindsight, but did we have a more optimistic spirit a century ago? Did we simply believe the nationalism that was prominent that day would recede into a historical footnote and cooperation would prevail? Was the title of this blog something that was a sincere hope or merely a slogan for a weary and war-torn world? By the time I would be born less than 40 years later, we would already fight another World War, one that this time would encompass the globe. The nationalism of Germany, which occurred with perhaps some justification in light of Article 231, the Fascism of Italy and the imperialism of Japan certainly speak to the consequence of nationalism, which is certainly rampant today.

During the last five years as I have traveled to Central and Eastern Europe, the rise of nationalism in Hungary and Poland or the division in Ukraine has demonstrated that nationalism is alive (and as an oxymoron, well). Brexit in England and the, what I deem as troublesome, red MAGA caps are both examples of globalistic rebellion. Today, the French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the consequences of these current nationalistic moves that sweep our world. He said, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism” (11Nov18). He noted that such actions threaten the very democracy two World Wars fought to preserve (11Nov18). He went even further calling nationalism treason (Breitbart). I do wonder what those WWI veterans would think about the wars we wage now. Certainly the equipment would boggle their minds. The firepower and the way we use our strength and might. What would they think of the bravado of people like Kim Jung Un, who should be seen as an adversary, Rodrigo Duterte, who is an ally, but somewhat dubious, or Vladimir Putin, who certainly rules Russia with a stronger iron fist than our President seems to believe? What would they think of not only our military technology, but our personal technology and how it is used?

Before you believe I somehow see a century ago as preferable to now, I do not, and there are numerous and significant reasons to feel that way. I do believe the Americans, those perhaps born in the recent shadow of our own civil war, were, however, at least beginning to realize the need for a world who gave more than a rat’s ass about other countries. I also believe our government was quite imperialistic, but the consequence of being pulled into WWI would push some to see the significance of a need for at least some global care, and mutual concern. I also realize there were still a number of social and political battles that would take another half century to begin to confront. Many are still being confronted and perhaps we have backslid a bit or a lot, depending on your viewpoint. It is interesting to me that I find I am much more accepting of the other than I was as a child growing up in NW Iowa. I do not think it was that I did not accept, but I had little to no exposure to the other, and most of what I knew I saw on television. I did grow up knowing there were certain terms I was forbade to use, but I just this week in corresponding with an high school classmate, she noted the struggle one of our Native American classmates had and how it affected him for years following high school. I remember him well, and while I merely thought he was quiet, I had no idea he was so bullied because he did not fit our WASP neighborhood and high school. I do not believe I even had a black person in my school until I was in 12th grade and we had redrawn the boundaries of our city high schools. What I realize now is how we are privileged as whites, and even more so as white males. I remember writing a blog about this around four years ago. I wanted to defend my white privilege because I had worked so hard for where I was. There are some remnants of that thought process, but at this point, I mainly want to see all people valued and respected. I find myself believing more and more that when one of us is discriminated against, it hurts all of us. I find myself believing more and more that we need to see our place in the world as important, as significant, but not as the moral/political exemplar. In fact, it seems as if we are anything but presently, and that is not a comment pointed only at the executive branch of our government. As I have noted lately, the lack of civility and the unwillingness of our legislative branch to work in a bipartisan manner is unconscionable. I listened to a GPS episode in which Fareed Zakaria interviewed the French President after the commemoration of WWI, to which I referred earlier in this post. I find myself agreeing with most everything the French President asserted, and his contention that Europe needs to care for Europe and not see America as the primary fall-back for the EU made a lot of sense to me. I find President Macron’s approach to be moderated and thoughtful, but also realistic in the present world.

There is little doubt that the last two years have created some concern for our European allies. There is little doubt that the MAGA doctrine has had consequences that push the United States off the pedestal and has made the torch of the Statue of Liberty lose some of its luster, if you will. I am not saying that having all of NATO work together a bit more thoughtfully, both in terms of finances and non-financial resources, is wrong, but the manner in which the message has been delivered (tweeted, which is an entirely separate problem) has serious rhetorical issues. You cannot go around threatening the rest of the world and then believe they want to work with you or will trust you to work with them. Again, I find all of this a bit embarrassing, but it seems there is little our President finds embarrassing. Over the past few days, I have had both my Russian students and my American students ask me what I thought about our elections. I think the elections did little more than illustrate what any thinking person should already realize. We are as divided and polarized as ever. While I am a bit hopeful because we have a better checks and balances in our legislature, I am not convinced that the probably next (and former) Speaker of the House is the best way to proceed (and it pains me to say that). I believe she did a pretty good job as speaker the first time, but it seems that we are in such a different world now, and she is almost as polarizing as Sec. Clinton was. I have little doubt that President Trump will blame the House for everything he can for the next two years. If the Democratic-led House does not manage things that demonstrate a clear sense of caring for things that go beyond the beltway, I believe the damage that will be done to the Democrats will have generational consequences, but the immediate consequence will be an additional term for the current occupant of the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that causes me more concern than I even have words.

The reasons for concern are legion, and it is not by accident that I use that term. I do not think the Democrats have a good plan for the next two years or beyond, and no matter how carefully I look, I see little in terms of a plan that demonstrates how we can move the country forward in a manner that respects all of us. The lack of respect that has been revealed in the last two years goes beyond what I ever thought possible. I will also say that I do not believe President Trump is responsible for all of that. I read an article recently that points a finger (at least legislatively) at Newt Gingrich. I think there is a lot that rings true in that argument. I think there are certainly ways to govern that do not have to make the opponent the enemy, but somehow we have forgotten that, or perhaps we no longer believe it. I am all about being passionate about one’s beliefs or positions, but as I note for my students, the reason for argument is to reach consensus. One can point out the differences of a position without making the other out to be an idiot or the enemy. It seems the wars we wage today are class wars, and speaking of the French, that has disastrous consequences for them following their revolution of 1789. It was not called the Reign of Terror for no reason. It seems the wars we wage today are about education, location, or even occupation. We pit the educated (whom we now vilify or certainly those who teach are vilified) against those we deem uneducated. My father did not go to college, but he is one of the wisest people I have ever met. Education is about more than higher education (and I say that as a college professor). We seem to continually pit those in urban or suburban areas against the rural parts of our country. Again, seeing the rural folk as uneducated or parochial. Having grown up in NW Iowa, I know rural and many of those who live on or work on farms or in our agricultural sector or doing manual labor should not be treated as somehow less because they do not wish to have the hustle and bustle of the ‘burbs as a way of life. On the other hand, those who live in the ‘burbs or in the city have certainly valid concerns about what is happening in many of their neighborhoods and the violence that seems to plague our inner-city locales. I have both groups of students in my classes and I see how differently they understand the world in which they live and both hope to grow old. Then there is the issue of what someone does to make their life manageable. This is also complicated. From issues of job security to job availability, how do we make it possible for everyone to live a life that has meaning and quality. The complication of this question goes far beyond what I can do in a blog post, but it is significant. I see too many students who come to college and waste money and time. I seem too many people who are told that if you do not go to college you cannot be successful. Again, this might prove to be surprising for some.

I do believe there is a lot of positive consequences to a college education, but that is not just about a job. On the other hand, I do not believe that everyone needs to, or should, go to college. I do believe that working in the trades, which has a long history (and a successful one) in my family, is certainly a valid and thoughtful vocation, one that can make a difference in other people’s lives. What makes someone successful? What is success? It is more than money; it is more than prestige; it is more than collecting the most or biggest toys. There is so much I could say, but I need to do some other work, so I am off, but I leave you with one of my favorite scenes from my favorite move, Dead Poets Society. The amazing Robin Williams, as Mr. Keating, speaks to his students about the importance of thinking and learning. Perhaps we can all learn something from what is said here.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

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