My father was a professor. My sister was a professor. My cousins were professors.
So when J. D. Vance—possibly the most hated “man of letters” in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Ohio’s current Republican nominee for U.S. Senate—dusted off the old Nixon trope “The professors are the enemy,” I was pert near required to take offense.
Not that that was the most offensive thing that Vance has spewed during his gold star campaign of shame. That prize has to go to his declaration that women should stay in violent marriages for the sake of their children, comments he made in front of a California high school audience last year.
But back to the diatribe against professors, who, I’ll just add, might also be women trying to survive abusive marriages. Vance, as most of you know, benefited from the instruction of professors at two of our nation’s most esteemed institutes of higher learning: Yale College of Law and The Ohio State University. His adopting Nixon’s old cry is disingenuous at best, dangerous and targeted at worst. Like so many of the most vocal haters and bigots on the populist right—Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley, Donald Trump—Vance has an Ivy League pedigree. I hope his caustic comments about the teachers he studied under will prevent those who agree with him from taking up valuable space in our post-secondary classrooms.
All of this pernicious rhetoric is part of a much more dastardly Republican plan to destroy public education and make empty-headed voters more susceptible to their lies and propaganda. And it’s working. Teachers are leaving their chosen profession in droves and fewer and fewer students are stepping up to fill the pipeline. States are drafting military veterans and current college students to stand in front of classrooms full of impressionable youngsters. State legislators are siphoning money away from public schools to fund charter schools that aren’t beholden to state education policies. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers in Maine can be used to offset tuition for religious schools. What public school teachers can say in the classroom is being prescribed by state legislators and angry school board members. Books are being banned, library shelves emptied.
Our democracy is under attack. Our schools are under siege. Our nation is breaking apart.
And, still, J. D. Vance, in an effort to garner votes from Ohio’s electorate, stands on stage and excoriates the very teachers who gave him the confidence to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and escape the suffocating desperation of his family.
Does he not realize that Ohio, with 195 degree-granting postsecondary institutions, may well have one of the highest professors per capita among U. S. states? And that all of those professors have extended family who vote?
Perhaps he sought political advice from Kentucky’s one-term governor Matt Bevin, who antagonized teachers across the commonwealth with his persistent attacks on their integrity. Bevin attended Washington and Lee University, where he became fluent in Japanese and majored in East Asian Studies, solid preparation for leading a state where Toyota and its Japanese satellite companies changed the state’s economic trajectory. Like Vance, he clearly benefited from his professors’ tutelage.
Vance may well win this election, although I’ll put my money on Democrat and current U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan. Maybe if Vance had paid more attention to his professors, he could run on facts rather than be enslaved to his party’s propaganda and lies.
It’s our nation’s Independence Day, and yet, like many, I feel no desire to celebrate.
After the week that was, I’m not sure I recognize our country. Rights and protections we thought were secure, if precedent held, have been obliterated. Pregnant women and medical staff in some states worry they may be prosecuted. Gun safety laws in place for 100 years vanished overnight. The clear line separating church and state evaporated.
And the EPA no longer has the authority to regulate businesses that willfully pollute our air and water for profit.
This same week we learned that the President of the United States belligerently demanded to be taken to the Capitol during a violent assault on our nation’s governing body so he could confront his mortal enemy, his hand-picked Vice President.
What country is this? It’s not one I want to celebrate.
Two friends commented recently that they see hope in our youngest adults. Perhaps I need to find some Gen Z friends. I realized this weekend that I have no confidence that the direction this country is headed can be altered in my lifetime. The shift away from democracy toward one-party minority rule seems inexorable.
I’ve never wanted to live a particularly long life. I don’t want to be the last of my friends and family left on this earth. But it may take the years required for me to reach 100 before this country can heal. Assuming there is still a planet able to support us.
If you were looking here today for a sunny holiday post, I apologize. This weekend I spent time outdoors actively searching for a brighter outlook. On Sunday I found a beautiful Kentucky summer day—moderate temperatures, mild humidity, a bright blue sky, and a fresh breeze—but I did not find hope.
I’m not thinking about young girls who will grow up without the protections of Roe. I’m not thinking about the students or the young married women who have lost the choices they had yesterday about their futures and their families.
I’m thinking about my mother.
My mother, who entered college in 1939 without the assurances I had in 1977. My mother, who so desperately wanted children that she took prescribed poison to protect her pregnancies. My mother, who made sure I understood the choices women had before legal abortion.
I can see the two of us sitting in our den in the lower level of our Lawrenceburg home, dim sunlight coming through the dirty glass of the sliding doors that opened to the broad yard. I was sitting on the stone hearth of the fireplace. She was across from me on the sofa. She told me what frantic women had done before. She was matter-of-fact. I was horrified. Incensed.
And here we are again, fifty years later. I wonder how my mother would react to today’s news. Would she be as irate as I am about the cruelty of this decision? Would she be more sanguine, having seen more of life, and politics, than I have? Or would she simply be numb?
Losing this one “right” may seem small potatoes compared to the looming threat of losing our democracy. How many women and families are really affected? In recent years, fewer than a million women in the U.S. made that choice—fewer than the number of Americans who have died of Covid. And we’ve mostly brushed aside that trauma. I suppose we’ll forget about this, too, in a few short weeks as we make the most of the waning days of summer.
But I urge you to be vigilant as the tectonic plates shift ominously beneath us. Exercise the rights you still have. Send a clear message to our self-serving elected representatives. We are the majority. We gave them their power. That is what we can take away.
I must have been 10 or 11 years old, the same age as many of the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting. I remember being herded with my classmates into the combination gymnasium/cafeteria at Saffell Street Elementary in Small Town, Ky. Metal folding chairs were set up in long rows in front of the elevated stage. There might have been some jostling or some goofing around, but students were largely respectful and well-mannered in that era. We took our seats and waited to see what was next.
A man appeared on the stage and walked us through a presentation about safely handling guns. I had never held a gun or seen anyone else handle a gun. Nonetheless, I remember paying careful attention, because I evidently knew there would be a test at the end. And I always wanted to do well on every test.
I learned the importance of keeping all guns and ammunition locked away when not in use. I learned how to carry a gun safely if I were ever hunting with others. What I remember most, perhaps because it concocted an image of traipsing across fields and farmland and crawling over obstacles—something I loved to do—were the detailed instructions on the importance of unloading a gun before climbing over a fence, handing the empty gun to someone on the other side (or, I suppose, shoving it under the fence), and then climbing over the fence unencumbered before retrieving the gun and reloading it, if necessary.
The presenter represented the NRA. He was there to ensure that children living in a rural area where there were certainly many guns available knew about basic gun safety. His job was to keep us safe, to preserve our lives.
This was the role of the NRA in 1970.
Heather Cox Richardson, in her Letters from an American post on May 26, 2022, reminded me of that. She wrote, “By the 1980s, the National Rifle Association had abandoned its traditional stance promoting gun safety and was defending ‘gun rights.’”
Today, the NRA opened its annual convention in Houston, despite the recent slaughter in Uvalde, Texas, five hours due west. The organization has a very different purpose and different goals than it did 50 years ago. Its lobbying efforts have clearly led to the proliferation of guns in American society, where there are more guns than people. Their efforts have also convinced legislators to refuse to back even the most moderate, and widely supported, gun legislation.
This week, after the senseless murders at Robb Elementary, Republican office holders have proposed arming teachers and eliminating doors in school buildings rather than raising the age for lawful purchase of a military-style weapon or expanding background checks. Because of the work of the modern NRA, more children will die in mass shootings.
As I’ve watched the transformation of the NRA over recent decades, I have frequently recalled the hour or so I spent as a youngster learning about guns. I have to smile at my earnest interest in a lesson that now makes me cringe. Contrasting that innocent hour to the hour of terror endured by the few surviving 10-year-olds in that Robb Elementary classroom spotlights where the NRA has taken this country.
I suppose I did OK on the test. I imagine we all were rewarded with the same wallet-size card indicating we had successfully completed a course on gun safety. I was immensely proud of that card and kept it in my billfold for many years. I probably still have it somewhere.
I’ve still never held a gun in my hands. I never intend to. I hope I never need to. (As I type that, I am reminded of numerous Ukrainians who have reported they shared my aversion to guns before they felt compelled to learn how to use one.) And the NRA better know that my abhorrence of weapons of mass killing will propel me to the polls every time I have the opportunity to vote against an NRA-endorsed candidate. We cannot let them get away with killing our babies.
I’ve resisted writing about the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., all week. I seriously doubted that you wanted to hear me rail again about white people slaughtering innocent Black people. But then President Biden reminded us all that “Silence is complicity…. This is work that requires all of us—presidents and politicians, commentators, citizens. None of us can stay on the sidelines.”
Well, I’m a citizen. And there are a few people who read what I write. I imagine you all agree with me on this truly black and white issue, or you wouldn’t keep reading. So as much as I wanted to leave this one alone and try to go on with my life, knocking off chores on my long to-do list, I finally had to stop and say something, however banal and however repetitive.
First it was Rev. Al Sharpton’s words on “Deadline: White House” with Nicolle Wallace. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “We can’t stand around while we’re being livestream lynched.” (Those last two words are a direct quote.) The “we” in his emphatic statement I assume to be African Americans. His dragging the term “lynched” out of our nation’s dusty history and into the 21st century with the modifier “livestream” sent a chill up my spine.
That, of course, is exactly what the shooter did. White Americans may be too busy right now going to graduations and attending children’s soccer games and planning sunny vacations to pack a picnic basket and sit on a hillside for hours anticipating a live lynching, as many of our forebears did. But those in our midst so inclined certainly could muster a few seconds to watch a murderous rampage inside a neighborhood grocery store that took the lives of 10 innocents, including an 86-year-old, who was clearly a threat to that white 18-year-old’s opportunities in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Then I reread Eugene Robinson’s column from the Washington Post, which started:
“Do not dare look away from the bloody horror that left 10 dead in Buffalo. Do not dare write off the shooter as somehow uniquely ‘troubled.’ Those Black victims were murdered by white supremacy, which grows today in fertile soil nourished not just by fringe-dwelling racists but by politicians and other opportunists who call themselves mainstream.”
Over the last seven years, many have looked the other way as those embracing white supremacy have been emboldened by powerful voices and by the sometimes covert, sometimes overt, complicity of an entire political party drunk on the promise of power. There are no boundaries. There is no shame. The only human life of value is that of the unborn. And as soon as that infant has hurled its first cry, it can be sacrificed at the altar of mammon if doing so would garner one more vote, one more donation, one more sound bite, one more ego-burnishing story to tell the guys down at the local watering hole.
The Buffalo Massacre. As I typed those words, I thought of the glorious bison who roamed huge swaths of our nation before being slaughtered indiscriminately, largely by the greedy White Man. I couldn’t help but acknowledge the parallels. I have to think that most modern Americans regret that bloodshed. Will we ever muster the fortitude to end the senseless slaughter of our fellow Americans? Or will we look away, despite Eugene Robinson’s entreaty, and allow a tiny minority to continue a reign of terror across this great land?
Cathy Eads, of Atlanta, felt compelled to write about Justice Samuel Alito’s preliminary opinion overturning Roe v. Wade that circulated earlier this week. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
“And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
I have other things to do. I’m trying to sell a house, complete a career training course, parent a young adult child who needs more attention right now, finalize a divorce that’s dragging on longer than expected, work out, and just get around to cleaning my toilets. I’d like to be free to exercise my right to the pursuit of happiness, but as I write this, tears sting my eyes and I’m putting all those things on the shelf to write about the latest attempt to repress freedom in the United States.
It is surreal to consider that what has been a right of women in the USA since I was a chubby-faced little toddler is now at risk of being ripped away. I am experiencing feelings of fury, sadness, broken heartedness, and a fiery motivation to rage against the machine, again.
And so, I write, because exercising my voice is one way I can contribute to the defense of my and my sisters’, my daughter’s, my cousins’, my nieces’, my friends’, and all girls’ and women’s rights to reproductive health care. I’ll also march, protest, knock doors, and drive people who need rides to vote, to get health care, or to join me in marching and protesting.
Because you, you who are trying to erase us and have power over us, our bodies, and our rights, you will not win. You will not win this battle. You do not own the majority of the U.S. population. We are still free. We see what you are trying to do. When you try to scare us into submission, it emboldens us. We will work persistently to maintain our freedoms, and to gain more equity and more of the power that is absolutely our right to have and to hold. We will not sit down and be quiet.
Freedom does not belong only to the white males (and females) who wish to have power over the people in this country at all costs—the ones who are so afraid of sharing the world, sharing power with females, people of color, and people of various religious backgrounds and sexual orientations. Freedom and autonomy over our lives, our bodies, where we live, and who we love are inalienable rights. We know this, and you do, too. We see that it is you who are scared. People who are afraid and feel weak try to gaslight, manipulate, trick, and control others. We don’t want to take your power; we simply want to share the power. This is not a zero-sum game.
When we all share in the power and privilege, we can work cooperatively to bring broader access to healthcare, greater wealth, better education, a more secure planet, a more peaceful existence for all people—because that’s what we want. Leaving us out, trying to silence us, attempting to take away our rights means that fewer of the brilliant, creative ideas available to solve our shared problems are being brought to the table. We want a safer more secure life for everyone—even you who are trying to intimidate us. And believe it or not, as ragingly mad as we are at you for the idiot moves you’ve made to squash us into boxes and pretend that we don’t matter, most of us would forgive you and choose to cooperate with you to bring about a better life for us all. Because in truth, we are all part of the human race, just like you, wanting to make the most of the precious time we have here on this planet.
Which is why I probably won’t bother cleaning those toilets today either.
I should have seen it coming.
I suppose I expected a more gradual transition to my pre-pandemic activity level. You may recall that I confessed to being quite comfortable with quarantining. Professional obligations over the last four decades had pushed me out into the world and forced me to learn to interact fairly successfully with other people. But it was always hard. And always immensely exhausting.
It wasn’t until we were all forced to withdraw from society that I realized just how heavenly that mandate was for me. I retreated into my little cocoon, taking walks with the dog and a friend or two, and being quite content with that abnormal state of things. I learned to talk on the phone more, which I had never particularly enjoyed, and I celebrated how infrequently my car left the garage.
But now, I suppose, it’s over. Or at least the majority of people in my neck of the woods have decided the pandemic is behind us. The dictate now is that we must all return to our normal activities, sans masks, or risk being branded as pathetic snowflakes.
I will admit that I have been one of the last to walk into a restaurant without a mask or accept an invitation to a gathering with more than a couple of people. I haven’t traveled since 2019. I haven’t been to an event since early 2020. All my socializing has been outdoors, usually on a hiking trail.
And, quite frankly, I didn’t really want to leave the cozy little womb I had created. So I fretted about what to do. How should I respond to the onslaught of invitations landing in my inbox and on my phone? The rest of the world was moving on, and some—perhaps foolishly—seemed to think they wanted to bring me along.
Thinking I was dipping my toe in the uninviting water, on April 20 I took a deep breath and met a friend for lunch…indoors. On April 22, I got my second Covid booster. And then, somehow, the floodgates opened.
Was it just spring, and people wanting to get out from under our long winter? Was it the cyclical celebrations this season brings? Or perhaps it was the perceived freedom from the threat of the virus that resulted in an eruption of social invitations?
I said yes. I put each one on my calendar. Maybe I really could do this. Maybe I could be in public among large groups of people without worrying about infecting some vulnerable soul near me. I managed a bridal shower. A concert.
And then things started snowballing. I felt besieged by invitations. I couldn’t get sufficient air in-between them. My eating became erratic and sleeping was impossible. Even my daily calming rituals were upended. One evening, after two other events, I was walking Lucy and stumbled into a spontaneous retirement party at a neighbor’s firepit. The humans and canines in attendance were favorites of my dog. We got swallowed up. I couldn’t leave.
Late last night I finally had to put the brakes on. I canceled a date I had made with a friend. I pushed breathing and exercising and quiet chores around the house to the top of my priority list. Clearly I will have to find a way to better manage these emerging social obligations and my friendships.
If you are reading this, I hope you won’t take offense. I hope you won’t feel snubbed if I simply can’t add another activity to my calendar. I realize now I need to do this gradually, on my own terms. I need to get a grip. Avoid spontaneous combustion.
I hope you will be patient with me. For my part, I will continue to fight the urge to disappear to a remote cabin in the woods without leaving a forwarding address.
Coming Up Next: One final installment of the Richard the Terrible saga!
On February 23, 1900, Rep. George Henry White (R-N.C.), the sole Black U.S. lawmaker at the time, gave an impassioned speech on the House floor about the antilynching legislation he was proposing. The bill would make mob violence that resulted in the victim’s death a federal crime of treason to be tried in U.S. courts. White had felt compelled to act after witnessing the bloody Wilmington, N.C., race riot a little over a year before, during which a mob of white locals toppled the city’s multiracial government and ruthlessly murdered an estimated 60 innocent Black citizens.
After White’s speech, his fellow congressmen applauded his words but failed to pass the bill out of committee. Thirty-five years after the Civil War, Southern devotion to states’ rights was still paramount. White called out some of his colleagues who had spoken against heinous lynchings in their own communities. In White’s view, these legislators would not countenance federal legislation because “this would not have accomplished the purpose of riveting public sentiment upon every colored man of the South as a rapist from whose brutal assaults every white woman must be protected.” [Washington Post, February 21, 2020]
A year later, on February 11, 1901, a determined mob of local townsmen hung George Carter in front of the Bourbon County Courthouse in Paris, Ky. His crime? According to news reports: an attempted purse snatching. According to rumor and innuendo: rape.
The woman George Carter allegedly accosted was my great-grandmother, Mary Lake Board. The eight-year-old boy who identified Carter as his mother’s assailant was my maternal grandfather, William Lyons Board.
There are reasons to question whether George Carter was indeed the man who assaulted my great-grandmother. There was no trial, no presentation of evidence. There was almost certainly no capital crime. In her book In the Courthouse’s Shadow: The Lynching of George Carter in Paris, Kentucky, Paris native Tessa Bishop Hoggard scrutinizes the contemporaneous documentation and then offers a riveting account of the lead-up to the encounter with my great-grandmother and its chilling aftermath. The hanging also plays a pivotal role in the novel I wrote about my grandfather, Next Train Out.
Of course, no one in that Paris, Ky., mob was ever identified or arrested. No one was charged or convicted of murdering George Carter. There was no federal hate crime or antilynching law on the books, because Congress had failed to act the year before. It was not until 1920 that “Kentucky became the first southern state to pass an antilynching law.” [John D. Wright Jr., “Lexington’s Suppression of the 1920 Will Lockett Lynch Mob,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 84, no. 3 (1986): 263-79.]
This month, 122 years later, after 200 failed attempts, Congress finally succeeded in passing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, named in honor of the 14-year-old boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. After President Biden signs the bill into law, a lynching resulting in death or serious bodily injury can be prosecuted as a federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
It’s too late for George Carter, of course, or for the estimated 2,000 people who were lynched in this country after White’s original bill failed. But perhaps it’s a sign that our nation’s citizens are finally ready to take some initial steps toward ensuring justice prevails when racial hate crimes are committed. Just last month a Georgia jury found the three white men involved in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder guilty of federal hate crimes. The next day the three Minneapolis police officers who remained inert as Derek Chauvin slowly killed George Floyd were all found guilty of violating Floyd’s civil rights.
It may feel like way too little way too late, but perhaps we can sense a slight rebalancing of the scales of justice. Perhaps we are moving at a snail’s pace toward that more perfect union where all men and women truly are created equal. Despite current efforts in statehouses across the country to restrict discussions of our nation’s documented history relating to racial injustice and oppression, perhaps these concrete actions are signs of movement in the opposite direction, toward transparency and a more honest reckoning of our past.
We all need to feel uncomfortable about the atrocities that have been committed in this nation to buttress unequal power structures. We need to feel shame. And then we need to take action to address the lingering institutions and sentiments that perpetuate these injustices.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill, the longtime champion of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, said after the bill passed: “Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy…. [This bill] sends a clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore this shameful chapter of our history and that the full force of the U.S. federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act.” [NPR, March 7, 2022]
On Tuesday, March 29, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. Till’s cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., the last living witness to his abduction, said in response, “Laws make you behave better, but they cannot legislate the heart.” Let’s hope the hearts of all Americans are slowly recognizing the injustices that have stained our nation since its inception.
On Saturday, March 26, 2022, Tessa Bishop Hoggard and I participated in a Zoom virtual conversation hosted by the Paris, Ky., Hopewell Museum. We discussed the 1901 lynching of George Carter and how that dark episode prompted both of us to write our books. Connecting with Tessa ultimately led to my friendship with George Carter’s great-nephew, Jim Bannister.
My father, the rule-follower. At least now I know where I get it.
“It will always be a source of regret to me that I followed Army regulations and failed to keep a diary of my days in Europe from Jan 1945 to June 1946.”
Pud wrote that in the Preface to the journal he started well after the war, in February 1953, while employed as a research associate at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass. Though this journal focuses on his efforts to complete his doctoral dissertation, his interactions with other scientists and their research projects, and his introduction to academic and work-life politics, he is nonetheless just a few years removed from his march across Europe as a lieutenant in Patton’s army.
Every now and then, wartime memories would interrupt his typical journal remarks about New England weather or frost heaves, with no elaboration. The specific horrors or searing experiences that prompted a terse reference were not permitted to stain these pages.
For example, here is how he opened his post on 31 March 1953:
Eight years ago about this time I was crossing the Rhine at Mainz.
This afternoon about 1600 the sun broke out and stayed until sunset. We’ve had about a week of lousy weather—rain or cool and cloudy. Rain gauge showed almost 3 in. for last week. Worcester had 8 in. rain in March—more than any March since 1936, the year of disastrous floods. Last weekend the Conn. and Saco Rivers were on the rampage.
After crossing the Rhine to Frankfurt, Pud and his unit would follow Germany’s 6th Infantry Division east to Mühlhausen, south to Erfurt, through the Thüringer Wald to the Danube at Regensburg, and eventually on to Austria. They encountered increasingly demoralized enemy forces and human atrocities unlike any the modern world had seen. My father witnessed all of this first-hand.
As an intelligence staff officer and a battalion S2, Pud was responsible for relaying to his commander the threat that lay just ahead: the number of and preparation of the enemy forces, the terrain and battlefield conditions, and the risks to a successful completion of the mission. The accuracy of his assessment and the clarity of his communication could save—or cost—American lives.
Amid the chaos of war, the Allied forces had one goal: the defeat of Hitler and the forces he had aligned behind the Nazis. The enemy was so clear, the purpose so important, that young American men, including members of my family, eagerly volunteered to fight, sometimes before they were of legal age to join the military.
I recall this family history, of course, as Vladimir Putin sends Russian forces westward into Ukraine. Putin has his own reasons for this aggression, claiming, falsely, that the democratically elected Ukrainian government grabbed power illegitimately. Putin wants us to believe he is fighting the Nazis--“like 80 years ago.” He is not. But he believes that he can win support among Russian people if he resurrects the horror inflicted on millions of Russians during the Second World War. The Nazis were the clear enemy then, so they will be a convenient enemy now.
We have all seen the rising influence of Nazi sympathies in recent years. It is a cancer that seems to metastasize unchecked in dim corners of civilized society. I expect Ukraine, like most Western countries, has some number of Nazi sympathizers. It is not, however, a nation ruled by Nazis.
Our parents and grandparents fought the evil that was Nazism. As did the parents and grandparents of Russian citizens. And Ukrainian citizens. Putin’s forces today are not fighting Nazism. They have been conscripted to fight Putin’s war to realize his fever dream of an expanded Russian state. It is Putin who is using Nazi tactics like disinformation and a nationalistic love for the motherland to further his own totalitarian ambitions.
We see this clearly. We ache for the Ukrainian and the Russian citizens; the refugees and the nations that have opened their arms to them; the Russian soldiers who are being sent to fight their neighbors and their family members; the Ukrainian forces that are withstanding the assault of a larger, better equipped opponent; the Ukrainian citizens who are fighting back in the streets; the Ukrainian officials who are standing strong in the face of mortal threat and the physical destruction of their cities and their homes.
Experts tell us this tragedy is still in its opening act. It’s hard to know how it will play out. We can only hope, once again, that the rest of the world can find the courage to stop a madman.
Joe Anthony, of Lexington, Ky., wonders whether Americans have what it takes to defeat our 21st-century enemy. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
During the 1940s, do you think our parents and grandparents would sometimes complain to each other? “I’m so tired of news about the war. Can’t we talk about something besides the Pacific Front or Allied landings?”
I’m sure they did, occasionally, but they knew the war was center stage.
Covid is our war. It doesn’t matter if we’re “over it.” Our enemy, Covid, is endlessly crafty, energetic, and vicious. I know. I recently spent 16 days in the hospital and nine days in a rehabilitation facility after contracting the virus. I was fully vaccinated and boosted, and it nearly broke me.
As in all battles, it’s ourselves that matter even more than our opponents: our vanities, our fears, our prejudices, our malice. If we can manage ourselves, we will vanquish the enemy.
George Will, the conservative columnist, wondered if our country, as constituted now, could win the Second World War. I wonder, too. It isn’t only the reluctance to sacrifice for the common good; it’s the refusal to believe the credible. Millions indulge themselves with fantastic speculation backed by no evidence and sometimes no logic and reject that which comes with freight-loads of scientific proof or that which they witnessed—re January 6th—with their own eyes.
That refusal to acknowledge basic reality breaks down community, too. We can’t even get to the point of disagreeing. A sub-group of Americans in the ’40s, die-hard America-Firsters, pushed the theory that FDR had been behind the attack on Pearl Harbor. But they were called nuts by the huge majority. Now there is no “nut” theory that doesn’t get a hearing and eventually, it seems, a substantial following.
Our parents and grandparents may have grumbled, but they collectively pulled themselves together: gathered scrap, rationed, and sent their sons to fight. They accepted hard truths, facts they didn’t like. They knew the news wasn’t always going to be good and didn’t reach for a scapegoat to blame. Well, not usually at least.
And when the dreaded telegraph arrived, they grieved but knew their sacrifice went beyond themselves—went out to the country they loved. They got some comfort from knowing that. Though death is always solitary, the country they sacrificed for came back to them in a collective embrace.
We love the same country. And if we truly love that country, it will love us. Can we do less than our previous generations? Can we even imagine loving our fellow Americans?