Friday, August 17, 2012

A Quick Glance Back

Even the tiny handful of people who were born a hundred years before, or even one or two years earlier, cannot remember 1912 because they would have been too little. So why do I glance back? The news these days are relentlessly centered on financial malfeasance, the economic slump, and tiny electronic appliances we hold in our hands. And, of course, the elections—but that’s a perennial. That all-purpose warding phrase occurred: This too shall pass. Then I thought I’d look. Sure enough, looking by decades, the menu changes but—say in 2002, 1992—not yet the taste and flavor. So I went back a hundred years.

1912. Taste and flavor are quite different. It was the year that the Titanic sank. If you are now a citizen of Arizona or New Mexico, those two regions became states of the Union that year. The year before there were no Girl Scouts of America. In a hard-fought contest, T. Wilding defeated A. Gore. Gore? Already campaigning back then? No. This was Wimbledon, and A. Gore was Arthur Gore. Elihu Root—whose name signaled recognition in my mind but little else—won the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting international cooperation between nations through arbitration. Root failed. If a time machine could transport me to August 17, 1912, and in conversation I would refer to the two World Wars, people would give me puzzled looks. The roots of war, however, were also present—and not just the roots of the great wars but multiple small ones that still plague us: the Balkan Wars began in October. This signaled the eventual breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Serbia and Bulgaria, with secret Russian backing—and joined by Greece and Montenegro—set about to reclaim Ottoman conquests of European territory. A hundred years later, that process is still in motion.

Today brings news of banks hoping to get a special Internet domain-name category. In 1912 the Radio Act parceled out three- and four-letter station codes and restricted access to one radio frequency. The unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in the United States. My time-travelling self is also babbling on about the coming Great Depression—and getting the Cassandra treatment. No one believes my prophecies. Woodrow Wilson was still running for President, running against Roosevelt—Teddy, that is—running as a Bull Moose yet. Same old politics—but a somewhat different flavor.

My time-time travelling persona, looking forward in time from 1912, gains a quite different view of that well-worn phrase, This too shall pass. Yes, it will, this world of 1912. But what shall come in its wake? What came for that time were two of history’s greatest wars, its greatest collective economic meltdown, the Ice Age of the Cold War—which, oddly, created a period of sanity in this country—and after that, and the Berlin Wall, the perfecting hand of Progress has brought us Today. And this too shall…

1 comment:

  1. This post is a lovely reminder to us all that we should meet the over-hyped excitement of today with the sobering insight of perspective. Cheers!

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