I read a quote from author Craig Johnson the other day that had me thinking about who I am and how I got to be this person. Surely you know who Craig Johnson is? He’s the writer who created the character Longmire. If you haven’t read any of the novels or seen at least a half dozen of the TV episodes then you haven’t lived a full life.
You might not like this, but …
You might not like this, but the US Civil War helped create who you are.
It doesn’t matter if you are in
Africa, the events of 1861 to ’65 in U.S.
affect how you live today.
You might not like this, but the 20 million people who died between 1935 and 1945 affected the person you are.
You might not like this, but both the stupidity of mankind and the amazing leaps in intellect have changed those who are alive and growing in the present.
There was a time when the common man, what today we call the working man, did as he was told by his “betters”. If the “Lord of the manor” said, “build a bridge here” or “go to the fiefdom next door and destroy the castle” the working men (and women), or serfs all picked up their pitch forks and did as they where told. They did this (and interrupted their own work) because they thought they had to and because the feeling was that “our betters know what is best.”
As centuries past and the transmission of news improved (with an increasing percentage of it actually true) the attitudes of the common people changed. The promises by “leaders” of more land or an elevated position often turned out to be outright lies, even if your side won. In later years the promise of a life pension or (in the
New World) a large parcel of land
(“Wow, a whole hundred acres?”) proved to be inadequate or perhaps impossible
The advent of modern war was an even greater shock for those actually conducting it; that is those “in the trenches.” In the Crimean War (
vs British/French Allies 1853-’56) the common soldier realized that he was
being butchered to gain no tactical advantage. He also began to realize that,
although he was willing to give his life for his senior officers (for king and
country) many of those senior officers thought of the soldiers as so much wood
to be thrown into the fire. And for the winning soldiers, the British, French,
Ottoman Allies only about 1% received anything that could be considered a
pension because the treasuries were empty.
When the US Civil War took place it not only had excellent coverage from journalists, many of the battles took place where they could be viewed by the general populace. The butchery of war then became common knowledge. Many soldiers from both sides discovered that the ideals they thought they where fighting for had nothing to do with what was actually happening.
The soldier of the day still expected, both when he signed up and when in action, to do as he was told. Those not within the ranks and actually under officer scrutiny began to talk openly about the shortcomings of their “leaders” or “patrons”. This “noise from the ranks” traveled around the world and became common even in societies/armies where such complaints could lead to execution.
Royal Canadian Rifles crossing Paardeberg Drift Feb. 18, 1900
For those in Commonwealth countries the same change of attitude had started back during the Crimean War but the Boer War (the second one of 1899) completed this change. Many men of an adventurous bent formed armies (Lord Strathcona’s Horse) or joined existing battalions (Royal Canadian Regiment) to support King and Country and prove the importance of Canada (or Australia, India, Irish, Scottish, etc.) to England. When it was all over the treatment of soldiers and the mistreatment of the enemy did much to convince veterans that the “old country” could, in the future, stamp out their own damn snakes.
As a result of history showing us “peons” that our “betters” not only where not better but where often not as good, there was serious hesitation about going to
during the years of WWI. Citizens of Commonwealth countries lobbied against
conscription or avoided it after it was passed. American citizens aggressively
fought their country joining the conflict until their inclusion was almost too
Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry "over the top"
Feb. 28, 1915
A similar attitude interfered with many of the same countries which became involved in WWII. In addition there was a strong feeling in the thirties and into the first few years of the war that the German Chancellor was the answer to corruption in government. By the time it became common knowledge that he was the greatest threat to mankind on the planet he was almost too strong to defeat.
This change in attitude about patrons, leaders and government in general lead to other difficulties that had nothing to do with war in its normally accepted sense.
As an example, a great many well meaning people decided in the early part of the 20th century that it would be a great idea to ban alcohol except for medicinal use.
prohibition only existed federally from 1918 to 1920. However it existed in
towns and provinces to some extent for more than 50 years. In Prince
Edward Island it was from 1901 to 1948 and I can
being a “dry” town until 1972. Owen Sound, Ontario
Federal prohibition in the
was begun under the Eighteenth Amendment in January of 1920. It was eventually
repealed in 1933 under the Twenty First Amendment.
Why where these acts or laws passed? Because more than fifty years of history influenced the formation of “Temperance Leagues”. These clubs concentrated on and actually advertised the destruction caused to society in general and to families in particular by the over indulgence in alcohol. There was surely a great deal of exaggeration taking place but everyone, even those not directly affected by drunks recognized that serious problems existed.
Thus the banning of alcohol.
So what did prohibition accomplish? Did it ensure the working man went to work, paid his debts and supported his family?
Not at all.
The populace in general consumed more alcohol than they had when it was legal. This was partly due to the “thrill” of doing something illegal. However, it was mostly due to societies efforts to show the law makers that they didn’t speak for “every man.” Another consideration was to deliver the message that government officials needed to listen to what the public wanted and not what some special interest group thought was best.
The “serfs” would no longer blindly follow the orders of those who thought they were “patrons” and “leaders”. Most began to think of these government people as subjects or servants of the common man.
Prohibition also resulted in several psychopaths and thugs becoming extremely rich. Since these anti-societal individuals were also defying the unpopular laws they became folk heroes and without help from the general public it was difficult to eradicate them.
Does any of this history sound familiar to those who where not aware of it? Are there any parallels to be found in today’s news?
There are many who want to eliminate the statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.
first PM, John A. McDonald is reviled today as a drunk and an egomaniac.
Winston Churchill is often portrayed as a war monger. There are many in today’s
world who would deny that any human could perpetrate what is known as the
“holocaust”. And there are aboriginals who want to portray Kit Carson as a
traitor and a murderer.
John A. McDonald
Kit Carson in 1850
All of these people and their actions, whether we know about them or not, have combined to create the person I am, and you are, today. Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont affected the Métis people of today but also every other Canadian as well. The same can be said of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Göring, or Hussein; they affected their own people but also those on the other side of the globe who would like to forget they existed.
Louis Riel's children, Jean Louis
The quote from Craig Johnson? It was in a recent issue of “Roundup” magazine from Western Writers of America. The part that had me thinking about who I am (and you are) was “To turn a blind eye to whom we were in our past is to forget who we are today.” That is why he is such a popular author; he said what I have been saying for decades in a manner that is concise and understandable.
Here is some more of Johnson. “Even in writing fiction I think you have a responsibility to inform in a truthful manner.” When writing historical fiction the author must first know the history so that, despite being fiction it is presented in a method true to the times so that the reader might accept it as valid.
Another quote I find interesting is from David McCullough; “The problem is the way we teach it. History never happened in the past. It happened in the present for those who made it.”
I realize that it has become acceptable in today’s entertainment, even necessary to include as many curse words in a story as many times as possible. However I try to avoid the use of any if at all possible. And even though many see “history” as a very bad curse word it isn’t.
It is what makes you … you.
Now none of this means that you have to buy one of my novels although I would like it if you did and then left a review at Amazon.com. However, I would sure like you to think about what you just read here and leave a comment.