When Will We Wake Up
From the Nightmare of History
While reading Maureen Dowd’s latest N.Y. Times column, I was struck by the final paragraph, where she notes how Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce’s self-portrait in “Ulysses,” “captures our incomprehensible politics in a remark that burns brighter than ever: ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’”
“Truer words have never been spoken” is another quote that comes to mind, reportedly uttered in 1878 by M.E Grant Duffy, an MP from England who was speaking about a colleague’s concerns over an armed conflict between United Kingdom and Russia. How maddeningly appropriate given the current very real possibility of a Russian invasion into Ukraine.
Today’s nightmarish scenarios burn like white heat when compared with yesterday’s tepid terrors. In the good old days, the world’s powers avoided a worldwide conflagration by hosting proxy wars in Vietnam, the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It was bad but we could accept the slaughter of yellow people of Vietnam, the genocide of the brown people of Palestine or the decapitation of the non-Christians of Iraq and Syria.
We could sit relatively peacefully and blithely in our lawn chairs, sipping our cocktails, safe in the belief that the world leaders would make sure that the bombs and the bullets would be kept a safe distance away. Detente, the Cold War, mutually assured destruction were our comfort blankets that we believed would keep the bloodshed an arms distance away. Our leaders negotiated reductions in nuclear arms and put in safeguards that would slam the door on any future nuclear confrontation. We were mesmerized and fed lies that we wanted desperately to believe that the years of world conflict, the possibility of a nuclear war, were history, never again to be repeated. We thought our leaders were pretty smart. Then Sept. 11 exploded the myth that an attack on American soil was an anachronism, last played out with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, which, while a U.S. territory, was still not the homeland’s soil.
In the 1960s, we shook our heads and wrung our hands in shock and disbelief at the sadistic ways that African Americans were attacked with fire hoses and little African American girls killed in church burnings in the southern states because the victims of slavery demanded nothing less than their rights. But the unrest was kept a comfortable distance away from the rest of the country. Then the upheaval intensified and riots spread beyond the south, with block after block of buildings burning from the accumulated rage, and white people feeling personally threatened, and that was something else.
Now, we watch today’s confrontation move closer and closer to the point of no return as events unfold in real time and we feel utterly helpless and with no confidence that the leaders will come to their right minds and find a way to walk back from the brink. Where have you gone, you masterful manipulator, Henry Kissinger.
Now our white, European brothers and sisters are facing the barrel of the gun as we are slowly sucked in the maelstrom of money and manipulated by the billions of dollars at stake in natural gas. There’s no more room for liberal handwringing or right wing finger pointing. It’s the sound of the gun and the smell of the powder that is upon us.
It is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. But the nightmare was temporary and I knew I would awaken. No longer. The possibility of a third world war is real as we watch the world unravel before our eyes.
In our saner years, AIDS killed tens of thousands but most of us were immune, as long as we weren’t gay, IV drug users or had blood transfusions that included tainted blood. Kept arms distance away, AIDS was within acceptable limits to most of us. Turn the calendar to the present and the plague of COVID-19 knows no cultural, racial or other barriers as it attacks our friends, our families, our neighbors. Nobody is immune. The pandemic is waning while the world waits for the next, possibly more dangerous iteration to form.
There was a time in the 1960s when young people turned out in the hundreds of thousands in protest. They burned American flags, marched on Washington, came up with all kinds of creative chants,, made music to reflect a generation of hopeful young people. A handful of people died in protests but we of middle America generally went on with our lives, if we were fortunate not to have lost a son or daughter in the rice paddies of Vietnam.
Back in the day, it seemed the system was working. It forced Nixon to resign in disgrace because he sanctioned a series of illegal activities, from wiretaps to burglaries, shredding the Constitution, all to maintain his office. Most Americans were shocked and disgusted at the blatant misuse of federal powers and Nixon’s unethical attempts to hold on to power. He left under a shadow of opprobrium, never again to hold office.
Today, the fractures in the nation seem too deep to heal, as neighbors suspect neighbors because they put Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns or post trump banners on their flagpoles and pick-up trucks. It would be nice to think the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was a one-off yet the Republican National Committee labels it “legitimate political discourse” and the number of Republicans willing to push back and hold trump accountable for egging on or planning the Jan. 6 invasion, remains sinfully small. And the would-be dictator continues to tear at the seams of the nation, cheered on by millions of Americans who pray for his return to the White House.
Blogger’s Note: In yesterday’s blog, I referred to Rep. Margaret Taylor Browne, rather than Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and while I am loathe to apologize to the likes of the Republican embarrassment from Georgia, I stand corrected.