Food prices in the United States shot up in 1917 as a consequence of World War I, then engulfing Europe. Agriculture had come to a halt in the theater of war, so the US had stepped up its production and export of food in response. Our nation was shipping vast quantities of food overseas (wheat especially), both in support of the Allied war effort and to relieve famished civilian populations. Besides leading to a collossal loss of life, the all-consuming war had disrupted everyday life in many countries, reducing many people to homelessness, hunger, and worse.
Back in the States, the price of food was skyrocketing. Food was scarce, and ordinary wage-earners couldn’t afford enough food to feed their families. Frustrated women, many of them immigrants, began protesting in places like Newark and New York City. The crowd of women above “charged” New York city hall in the winter of 1917 to plead for bread.
Similarly, women in Newark slogged en masse through the snow and slush to present their mayor with a petition for food relief. Many of the women brought their children to the demonstration. The spectacle of the protestors, appearing in numbers with their hungry children, made the urgency of their hunger tough to ignore. Only people with a just case would stand so patiently in bad weather, the snow falling on their umbrellas, hoping for compassion and mercy to come down, too.
On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died of gun violence. The previous evening, the president had attended the theater, where a Southern-born actor with rebel sympathies slipped into the private box where Lincoln was sitting and fired a bullet into the back of his head. Stunned witnesses carried the badly injured president out of Ford’s Theater and across the street to a room at Peterson’s boarding house, where he died at 7:22 a.m. the next day.
It was a politically motivated crime, a vengeful coda to the Civil War, which had ended with the South’s surrender at Appomattox just one week before. Even now, 156 years after Lincoln’s death, the despicable act that deprived this nation of one of its brightest lights casts doubt on whether our republican form of government, which depends on civility and a respect for the popular will, can prevail in the face of a vulgar resort to violence.
One day soon, you and I will have to turn to Earth and put a halt to the planet’s degradation. The problem is, I haven’t put the date on my calendar. Is today the day when the headlines are bad enough that I will put the date on my calendar, the date when I must begin living differently, because, if we don’t all get the date on our calendars soon, the human species might die?
Last week, I noticed a headline about birds nesting a month early. They are doing this because the Earth’s temperatures are warmer. So, the birds are adapting to a change in the air. Their innate wisdom is what humans lack. They listen to the air. Humans do not.
This morning, as I read an article about Putin’s atrocities, a bit of bold text in the sidebar mentioned that it’s “now or never if the world is to stave off climate disaster.” I was running late, so I couldn’t read more. Now, though, I’m thinking about that little bit of text. I hold such messages in one part of my mind, as the rest of it goes on normally.
I don’t suspend habit. I don’t instinctively calibrate it, as the birds are doing. If only there were a big red fire alarm switch to stop us “civilized” people in our tracks! We need an unmistakable signal, a cosmic Amber Alert, loud enough to interrupt our customs and force us to stop. If only there were a protocol for foreswearing our arrogation and turning to earth, reverentially caring for its life-giving elements and seeking its redemption as activists like David Attenborough are urging us to do.
The primitives’ oneness with nature being lost, we strain to recall the synergistic bond between nature and all human life. Yet the turn to Earth can be something other than a return to an earlier, simpler, and yes cruder time. The cosmic scale of the climate crisis dwarfs the individual, yet cosmic change depends on each of us harkening to a change in the air.
Vladimir Putin isn’t a czar. He isn’t a comrade. He isn’t a president. He’s like an old-time Pharaoh, an evil king, killing people deliberately to prove his power. Putin isn’t a westerner, a civilized person. He belongs with the tribal warlords, whose power rests on a foundation of propaganda and fear.
Putin should not be likened to Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s ideology was popular. Hitler expostulated Nazism so effectively that the whole German population fervently rallied around its aims. That rally at Nuremberg.
Far from being enthusiastically behind Putin, Russians are cowed. They are quiescent because they’ve seen activists like Navalny be jailed, beaten and poisoned. Russians have seen bad times and Putin has conditioned them to accept future suffering. They don’t want trouble. Ordinary people trust Putin’s explanations; they see his authoritarianism as a necessity. For years, the Russian population has heard only a steady diet of lies.
Putin himself is a coward, so he conscripts younger countrymen to go to Ukraine to commit war crimes for him. His people go because they are ignorant of what Putin is really doing to Russia’s “brother country,” Ukraine. Russians can’t believe their president would bomb a theater filled with Ukrainian women and children, that he would order the bombing of kindergartens and maternity hospitals, that he would murder pregnant women or shell innocent civilians running for their lives.
Putin is sending Russian soldiers to Ukraine without adequate food, fuel, or strategies. His troops are ignorant of the truth. When they encounter the gross reality of the Russian “special operation” in Ukraine, Russian soldiers are surrendering. They are deserting. They disregard orders. They leave behind their equipment. They have even reportedly shot down Russian planes from the sky.
No one has the nerve to oppose or force Putin out, so they go along with his damned course; they lick his boots and lie. Fortune reports that Russian troops positioned around Chernobyl have run roughshod over the radioactive site, raising the chance of their health being gravely impaired during their month-long occupation. The military mediocrity that such episodes reveal is astonishing.
Yet, the “free world” appears dangerously disadvantaged. It adheres to conventions. Decent democrats seem powerless in the face of Russia’s evil. Yet, for all that, the freedom that the rule of law brings is suddenly all the more precious (and empowering to Ukraine). Russia, once eager to be at the forefront of all nations, has fallen behind–economically, intellectually, and militarily. Its condition is provincial and static, because Putin’s regime depends on a closed society, where citizens have little access to news or information technology.
Having rejected the natural rights philosophy that undergirds representative governments in the West, Putin’s Russia is on a downward trajectory. Clearly not Western, it ever more nearly resembles benighted North Korea.
The newly created Writers’ Fund at American Inquiry augments the compensation this platform can offer contributing writers. Every dollar you give, net processing fees, advances this year’s goal of raising $4,500 for the Fund. Contribute in any $10 increment by clicking the quantity button. Your total will appear on the subsequent payment page. Many thanks!
While the air is still cold and the dune’s trees are bare, these inconspicuous flowers bloom in the sand. They are useless as far as I know, the hepatica and spring beauty. Deer don’t eat them. The plants don’t need much: given leaf rot and water, voila! they bloom.