Friday, April 7, 2017

America, a President, and a War on 04/06/17

Dateline Washington, D.C. The first sentence of this lead article in a well known New York newspaper gives a brutal summary of the day's big event:

Dramatic language from journalists, not surprisingly. But was this rhetoric warranted?

On the sixth day of April, in the latter part of the second decade of a young century that had already provided so many amazing and terrible surprises, the United States of America did something that committed them irrevocably to a war that had already been raging for several years, a war of unthinkable brutality and global scope.

When he ran for election only months before, the President had been touting his commitment to non-intervention. And now?

Those who read this blog know that I have been marking certain moments in the centennial remembrance of what was then known simply as The Great War. The war of 1914-1918 was indeed a horror unlike anything in human history up to that time. But it later acquired the peculiar distinction of being recognized as the initiation of a new genre of belligerence when it was renamed "World War I."

I wasn't planning on any flashy, "click-baity" ambiguity for this day. But it has been difficult for me not to allude to the sometimes creepy irony of how current news can "echo" the news of the past.

On April 6, 1917 -- after overwhelming approval from both houses of Congress -- the President of the United States declared war against the German Empire and America officially entered the still-undecided and seemingly unending slaughter in Europe.

The London Daily Telegraph was happy to herald a new era of cooperation between the Anglo-Saxon "democracies" (England was also an Empire all over the world, but... well, irony and all that).

One could say that April 6 was the centennial of America's stature as an international military power, and the beginning of what has since been known as "the special relationship" between America and Great Britain in international affairs.

As an American, I love and honor the soldiers who served our country in good faith, courageously and honorably risking their own lives and doing what they perceived in good conscience to be their duty. I especially honor those buried much too young in the graveyards of Europe along with larger numbers of their brothers from Europe's lost generation. In this war, as in most ugly wars, the terrible evils must be attributed to a colossal failure of statesmanship, and in a larger sense to all of us, because "war is a punishment for sin." We would do well to remember this today.

Indeed, I did not expect to find any striking ironies regarding the date of this event. I still hope that future historians will have no need to draw morbid parallels between April 6, 1917 and April 6, 2017. After all, the world is very different today in so many ways. The issues it faces are different.

But human nature remains the same. "We" are no better, surely, than our forebears a hundred years ago.

Nevertheless, the fact that America's military intervention in Syria (a solitary event as far as we can tell) occurred on the one hundredth anniversary of America's entry into the conflagration of World War I need not be anything more than an odd coincidence. So we hope and pray.

There are real enemies of the peace in the Middle East today, and it is reasonable to help those who are trying to stop them and to be prepared to contribute to a constructive aftermath. Above all, the millions who are already suffering deserve our solidarity and commitment. There are many ways to help them, but it's hard to see how a dangerous, possibly global escalation of the conflict would help them or anyone else.

By the way, the President in 1917 looked like this: