The murders of seventeen teenagers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day, is tragically becoming commonplace in our culture of violence and war. Fifty-nine people slaughtered and 510 wounded in Las Vegas, on October 1 of 2017, and now innocent children are cut down in their own school. When will we put an end to it all?
Over one hundred years ago, in May 1916, President Woodrow Wilson tried to cut the Gordian knot. This was a seminal period in history. He was dealing with the intractable problem of keeping America out of World War I and maintain peace in the world. He announced that if the European combatants laid down their arms, America would join a League to Enforce Peace. It was a global version of the Pan-American pact that he had been pushing in the western hemisphere.
Wilson firmly believed in the essential progressive agenda: Objective experts, plus inspiring leaders and educated citizens, equal a society governed by reason not force. Underlying it all was the most basic faith of all: in humanity itself. Progressive thinkers like John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, and historian Charles Beard insisted, unlike the late-nineteenth-century Social Darwinists, who declared people as fundamentally selfish, that people were naturally generous and cooperative. It was the evil of anarchic capitalism that made men act like beasts, the progressives claimed. The progressives stood firmly against the theologians who saw humanity forever tainted by original sin. Progressives vigorously supported the champions of Social Gospel Christianity who insisted that evil resided in the world, not in mankind.
Wilson was the son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers, and he saw the Bible as the greatest constitution of all, "the Magna Charta of the human soul." Wilson's devotion to order and reason was classically progressive. He had supreme faith that leaders could educate people. He knew that people sometimes believed in irrational and selfish things. He possessed an almost mystical faith that the people would follow him, if he could speak enough to them. He believed his words could make Americans seek reason and impartiality, and peace.
It was Wilson's hope that the United States, given its lack of selfish motives, could stand apart from Europe's balance-of-power clash. Wilson stated that the United States must play "a part of impartial mediation." The war's "causes cannot touch us," he added, but its "very existence affords us opportunities for friendship and disinterested service."
Wilson sincerely had a vision of a world without power politics, as the most effective way to ensure peace. The reality of his reason would become clearer when he attempted to import his progressive ideals overseas. French author, Anatole France declared that a world without power politics, "was like a town without a brothel." The frustrated French premier, Georges Clemenceau, fought back against Wilson, saying, "We have become what we are because we have been shaped by the rough hand of the world in which we have to live and we have survived only because we are a tough bunch." To Wilson and the progressives the balance of power looked both immoral and archaic, comparing Europe's balance of power, to the savage anarchic capitalism that saw selfishness the way of the world.
Like most Americans, Wilson hoped to keep the United States out of World War I. He had resisted intense pressure to join the fray, even after hundreds of American civilians were drowned by German submarines. On the evening of April 2, 1917, as a light rain fell, Wilson entered the Capital at 8:32 pm, to speak to Congress. He ended his speech by declaring that "America will fight for the things which we have always carried nearest to our hearts, for democracy, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free." He had asked Congress to declare war. He then returned to the White House and cried. Five days later the United States was at war in Europe. The war that "would end all wars" had begun.
Fast forward six decades and the many wars fought around the world during that period, to 1984. It was another seminal period in the history of the United States. The year 1984 was a turning point in our culture. It was the beginning of the economic and intellectual fraud of regressive taxation and supply-side economics.
In 1984, Peter Ueberoth turned a profit on the L.A. Olympics, for the first time in the history of the amateur event. A decade later, the Olympics were fully professional. In 1984, states began experimenting with legalized gambling. Seventeen states had lotteries, two had casinos and no states allowed video poker or gaming on native lands. A decade later, more people visited legal casinos than attended symphony concerts, Broadway shows, or read literature. In 1984, capital started to cross national boundaries and most corporations still dreaded debt-heavy balance sheets. A decade later, transnational capital drove the U.S. economy, and LBOs financed with junk bonds soared and the more companies laid off long-term workers, the more their corporate stocks seemed to rise.
In 1984, a surge in the deinstitutionalized, homeless vagrants prompted governments to set up special shelters, but a decade later citing "compassion fatigue" communities were evicting vagrants from public areas and building prisons at the fastest rate in history.
In 1984, Hollywood had just invented the tech-enhanced violent action movie and a decade later the typical child had seen 10,000 acts of TV mayhem by the age of 18. Today, violent on-line video games promoting the sadism of violence and murder are ubiquitous. Doing better and feeling worse has become part of our culture's new declinism.
We of course do not condone violence, but while we must condemn violence, we must also point out what produced it. Generally, it is not extremists but extreme conditions. We must ask who lit the match, but we must also discern why there was a fuse attached to the powder keg. Violence needs redefinition. It should mean anything that violates human dignity and human rights. Exploitation is the essence of violence, and its perpetrators can engage in it without ever drawing a knife or squeezing a trigger. After the exploitation becomes public, the populace tends to be repelled by the bloodshed, rather than the injustice producing it. The media is of little help, with its tendency to sensationalize rather than analyze. It makes Americans and our innocent children inmates in the prison houses of their own spirits.
There's a look in the eyes of our children that pleads why were subjected to this. It's a look of despair and discomfort, that as parents we can no longer resist. The hopes of youth and the memories of old age are the polarities of our population.
It was fifty years ago this April and June that America lost two of its best advocates for peace, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. We have become a lost generation since their assassinations and that of President Kennedy in November 1963. We have become captured by lobbied representatives who have failed to give mankind a peaceful society that we were promised as the American heritage. Their cries for peace were silenced, but the cries of the people and now tragically our children continue. Just like our own teenage anti-war movement in the '60s and '70s, we must now vigorously join our children in their existential plea to end violence and war, and bring an enduring peace. We must never compromise, and never forget our born duty.
The penalty good men pay for not being active in politics and effecting change, is to be governed by men worse than themselves.--Plato
BY: T. D. DUFF, TONKA BAY, MINNESOTA