In The Trenches: Historical, current events show need to think critically for ourselves

By on November 8, 2017

“Think,” Tim via Flickr Creative Commons

On the eleventh month, eleventh day and eleventh hour of 1918, the greatest butchery that had been recorded in the history of the world at that time came to an end. The upcoming date — November 11, 2017 — will mark its 99th anniversary.

When I was a kid in France, four decades after the armistice, the French radios would broadcast narrations of the war in the trenches.

I still vividly recall the sensations of horror I felt listening to the accounts.

It was a war that had an incredible appetitive to swallow the youth of Europe. In France and Britain, every strata of every society supplied bodies to feed the craving for the bloodbath.

There were no deferments. Famous authors, sportsmen, scientists gave their lives in the trenches.

How did we get there? A Serbian nationalist had assassinated the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This started a domino effect; the Serbs were backed by the Russian and French, whereas Austria was an ally of the German Empire.

In the decades preceding the outbreak, Britain had an arms race with Germany over which country could build the most powerful navy.

The Teutons, who came lately to colonization in Africa, were doubling their efforts. France never came to terms with the loss of its two German-speaking provinces — Lorraine and Alsace — after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. The two nations were longing to confront each other.

Bismarck had summed up the German attitude in a few words: “It is unfortunate that Germany has borders with France the most belligerent nation in Europe.”

His politics of “Space for Life” were to define Germany’s craving for new land to settle.

Feelings were so high in France that a political leader named Jean Jaures, who was advocating moderation, was shot dead by a nationalist.

Then, the inevitable took place, and the ferocious killings were set in motion. France, Britain and Russia were on one side, and Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the other.

Italy and America would join the fray later on.

Millions of soldiers died, and civilian populations under the German occupation in Belgian and Northern France got a taste of what would emanate a few decades later.

It is incomprehensible that masses of people in those countries were enticed to join in the supposed euphoria for war.

How could a dispute involving crowned heads trickle down to ordinary citizens? How could grown men accept so readily a role to fight for causes that did not affect their daily lives? How could they accept becoming pawns of the men in power?

Those questions are difficult to answer. It is conceivable that an individual could feel that although it is not his cause, he has a duty to fight as a way of showing his gratitude to his country.

It could be his citizen’s conscience leading him to show solidarity with friends and family.

Or, perhaps an individual could sense that his personal values of freedom are in jeopardy, and decide it is worth sacrificing his life for the generations to come. Any of the three are feasible when it comes to understanding what draws men to battle.

History has witnessed people taking arms for all of the above reasons.

And, to be clear, it takes courage to follow one’s conviction on either side of the argument.

It is courageous to be a conscious objector in the face of public opinion which may judge one to be a coward or unpatriotic.

It is equally gutsy to want to take arms for a cause you believe in, and stand firmly in front of the groups who want peace. It is not easy to have a valued judgment in a climate of unrestrained emotions. Revolutions and wars take place when the majority feels that fighting is a deliverance from the status quo. In most instances the ambiguity of the outcome does not go into the decision process.

Going back to World War I: A few years ago, I was in the Champagne Province of France, a region which saw intense fighting. It was there that I stumbled on a small American war cemetery with approximately 200 graves. American cemeteries in France are considered American territory.

I was walking slowing through the rows of tombstones when I saw a grave that marked a soldier from Wyoming. I suddenly felt depressed, as I thought to myself about what shame it must have been to have fallen in a drab place so far away from the vastness of our state and its rugged beauty. The day’s drizzle and the grey sky added to the sadness of the circumstance.

The manipulation of many so-called leaders pushing people into battle — be they from France, Austria or America — have had dramatic effects on the people of our planet. Cataclysm is perhaps the word I’m looking for here.

To surrender and not apply critical thinking to what is thrown toward us by those leaders does not make us free people, though. In those cases, we are being maneuvered —acting as pawns in someone else’s fight — and are meant to go on and develop a tacit indifference without questioning.

On an unrelated, but perhaps peripherally-relevant topic, I recently saw in a weekly newspaper that there is an orchestrated campaign by the local nonprofit group, Save Historic Jackson Hole, to restrict growth to Jackson and the surrounding areas.

The nonprofit paid for a sizable ad and a separate published opinion showed a litany of semi-laughable statements.

The non-profit has for years promoted a non-growth policy and has repeatedly shown what appears to be disregard and perhaps even antagonism toward local workers.

It’s not just Save Historic Jackson Hole that pushes this agenda, though. Under the pretense of preserving the “Old West,” there are many individuals and groups that appear to have a wicked pursuit against ordinary folks, and it’s causing Jackson Hole to become a “no-man’s land” for the working class, and subsequently an exclusive club for the wealthy.

These groups use deceptive arguments to scare the voters and cleverly play on the concern that our “special” place might be done for.

In reality, it feels more like a concern for the depreciation of assets. Protection of nature is highly commendable, but when it goes so far as to jeopardize the economic sustainability of JH — which this does, by pricing out workers needed to run the community — it threatens to destroy our community structure.

Any new thinking, which could bring with it new businesses, ventures to diversify our economy and increase the middle-class, has been thwarted.

This is a dangerous plan.

In order to support new endeavors, we need dwelling costs that make sense, and SHJH has continually mounted campaigns against finding feasible solutions.

They also state that our taxes are going to businesses so that they can make huge profits. What a lot of twaddle — and a blatant example of falsification of facts.

Considering our homegrown doomsday engineers have been at it for decades, I could ironically draw the inference that Trump himself was inspired by our local fear-mongers, the creators of false negativity and gobbledygook. But the idea is probably far-fetched.

The connection between the first part of the column and the latter may not be initially clear, but look deeper and what you’ll find is this: Whether it’s a battle for blood or a battle over land uses, we need to always be prudent to think what is thrown at us, asking ourselves if what we’re agreeing with is allowing us to be critical in our thinking, while letting us analyze opinions with objectivity. PJH

About Yves Desgouttes

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