“For when they shall say, ‘Peace and safety;’ then sudden destruction cometh upon them,…and they shall not escape.”
I Thessalonians 5:3
The Age of Progress reached its apogee in the 19th century. Inventions, improvements in health and sanitation, advances in medicine, and progress in education, fostered hopes of a Golden Age wherein the fruits of Progress would increase exponentially. Then came 1914, and 37 million casualties later, we realized that Progress was not a given.
Though Europeans were war-weary and skeptical, Americans were optimistic. Business profited from the war, while American bloodshed was minimal. The Roaring 20’s were a time of optimism. The Naval Conferences toyed with the idea of disarmament, while the U.S. proposed the idea of a League of Nations to keep the peace – only to disown it before it came to fruition. Stocks boomed and business thrived – until 1929.
The Great Depression hit Europe harder than America, and the festering wounds of the unresolved conflict brought Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s prophesy to term. The world erupted in another cataclysm. This time the side with the deepest pockets and most reserves determined that there would be no question about who “won” the war. They did not relent until the major Axis nations lay in ruins. The “winners” vowed, “Never again,” and formed the United Nations backed by U.S. arms.
Once again, we forgot that there are no winners in a war. The Soviets nursed resentment of suffering the most casualties while receiving little credit from the West, and the Cold War followed hard on the heels of history’s hottest. The British Empire exhausted itself, and promptly began divesting holdings. The French tried to pick up the burden in Indochina, but were not up to the task – nor were the Americans later. The U.S. granted the independence denied to the Philippines 40 years earlier, but picked up the task of defending South Korea. It quickly became apparent that a never-ending series of small wars, mostly proxy fights between the Great Powers, would be the price of preventing World War. Napalm, scorched earth, and grieving mothers became a fixture of our times.
Disciples of Progress had a brief reason to be hopeful after Reagan’s America bankrupted the Soviet Union, and the Iron Curtain fell. They forgot that USSR had been the DBA name for the Russian Empire, and that a wounded bear is dangerous. After a generation of supporting Islamic insurgencies against the USSR, the U.S. found itself the target of Islamic resentment due to its support of Israel – with Russia gleefully supporting its erstwhile enemies. The Twin Towers fell, and the U.S. became a police state at home, while engaging in retributive wars abroad.
Polio, smallpox, and typhoid had become distant memories, but AIDS, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and ever more virulent mutations of viruses kept incubating in remote areas that are now no more that a plane ride from anywhere in the world. How quaint the notion of quarantine seems!
Thirty-minute newscasts are no longer sufficient to inform us of who’s killing whom where in the world. News channels bring the mayhem into our dens 24-7. War and exploitation bear bitter fruit for generations.
Women in industrialized nations stopped bearing, but their sisters in the poor nations did not. Now the borders of the wealthy nations are besieged by refugees from the corruption and poverty fostered by the wealthy sub-letting their dirtiest and most dangerous jobs to workers in places with no social safety net and no regard for the environment. Coal too dirty to burn in the U.S. goes to China, which responds to its slowing economy by building an aircraft carrier. Palestinians continue to demonstrate that cultural memories are as bitter as the personal.
Information increasingly resides in “The Cloud,” where it is vulnerable to hackers and to solar flares. Through most of human civilization, the literate few exercised power out of proportion to their numbers. Progress in literacy over the past century seems nullified by the New Literacy; i.e., coding, which is as rare as literacy was in Charlemagne’s day.
Tsunamis, melting ice caps, and the threat of asteroids cause unease, while bright summer days become hazy from the jet contrails – rich people jetting all over the world – some to conferences to try to get the working poor to do without their coal, fish, and game. Hypocrisy is never in short supply.
Peace and safety? Not yet.
SONNy SCOTT is a Chickasaw County resident and a community columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.