Thursday, October 20, 2011

America the Tragic, Over and Over Again

I have spent the past 4 months slowly reading and digesting America Aflame, How the Civil War Created a Nation by David Goldfield. Eventually, I will get to that book here, but first I digress.

History has always been a passion of mine. I majored in history as an undergraduate. When I graduated my adviser counseled: “Now, with a dime and this degree, you can buy a cup of coffee.” (Coffee was a dime then.) I headed for the library and researched the stats on getting a Ph.D. in history.  Turned out that in 1961 there were more Ph.D.’s in history granted by the U of California at Davis, than were available positions for them in the entire U.S. I had a minor in Russian, too, but in '62 the State Dept. moved most of its financial aid in languages from Russian to Arabic.  Never say the State Dept. is not looking ahead.  Confession: I took the Foreign Service exam (on absolutely everything!) that year and got a 69 when 70 was passing. (Can't say I'm not honest in my memoirs.)

So I researched the question “What happens to history majors?” Sixty-five percent ended up in business. That was cool, so I worked on an M.B.A. for 3 semesters until I couldn’t handle the math. It didn't help that I was against the Viet Nam War in a mostly Republican environment.  (But my professor in business ethics and history was a retired Navy commander, who wrote me a positive reference for my application to be a conscientious objector.)

Then I drove a cab for nine months, taught school on the near west side of Chicago, and ended up in seminary because I kept getting drafted, and kept refusing induction. The rest is as they say, history.

BTW, I have a history project to work on this winter: I was a draft counselor in ‘69-‘71 in Chicago. I remember reading in the papers or hearing on TV news that the draft had broken down; that they were calling 500 and only 50 would show up. I want to check this out. It matched my experience: In ‘69 most of the guys who came in for counseling would want to know if they could be conscientious objectors. Starting in ‘70, guys were coming in saying, “I got this draft notice and didn’t go. What do I do now?”

I never see this issue addressed in history of the Viet Nam War era, and I think it is important. The war may have ended ultimately, because there was no more fodder for the war machine.

Well, we often get into these periods when people will say, “What can be said about the Viet Nam War, or Civil War, or any of our wars that’s new?”  Mistake.  My review upstream of The Given Day on the WWI era will illustrate this.

America Aflame speaks of the mid 19th century, but it informs our understanding of today. I did not realize how violent, how racist, how insensitive, how brutal, how forgetful, how unfair and how hypocritical our nation has been. More on this will follow.

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