Unfortunately, the New Year often stimulates us all to think long and hard about everything that we didn’t like about the past year. Our country is currently undergoing unprecedented change accentuated by the turmoil of constant disruptions. At various times, friends and family, both conservatives and liberals, have expressed enormous fear to me for our country’s ability to survive the deep divisions of 2017. I began to wonder how 2017 would shape up to some of our past years by picking a few key anniversary years and taking a sample of happenings in each. Frankly, if we thought 2017 was a bad year for the country – well I guess I would have to say that we have become soft.
In 1867 we were just coming off the attempted impeachment of President Andrew Johnson who, as vice president, became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. Johnson had been attempting to implement the post-Civil War policies of Lincoln which were “malice toward none” and “a re-embracing of the former Confederate States into the Union.”
The deeply bled North was bent on revenge and Johnson was their first target. The South had been under martial law by occupation by Union Troops since 1865 and would remain so until 1876. There was an attitude in the country which would sour North-South politics, business dealings and development, Southern poverty, and difficult race relations for the next 150 years. In many ways, we are still recovering from the Civil War and taking down a few monuments probably won’t help the situation.
In 1917 we were determined (after our enemies forced the issue) to enter World War I. We were struggling to convert civilian industries to making war goods. There was little trouble recruiting an army, but supplying them, getting them to the war front, training them, and convincing our allies to allow the American troops to fight as their own army rather than as replacement troops for the allied armies was a giant bear of a task. It took all year. We wouldn’t be ready to fight as a large force until 1918.
In the meantime, everyone back home worried about the outcome and the soon to arrive casualty lists. This was true uncertainty.
In 1929 the Great Depression began with the crash of the stock market. Homes were lost, people starved, careers were ruined, and banks failed. By the turn of the New Year, hope was disappearing. By 1933, with the election of FDR, hope returned as did some jobs but 25% of the workforce was still out of work. By 1941 the figure was down to about 11 million unemployed workers.
World War II solved the problem of putting America back to work by introducing America to the world’s worst war in human history. Hardly a palatable solution.
In 1942, the nation’s first full year participating in World War II, we lost most of our possessions in the Pacific Theater with devastating losses. We struck Tokyo with bombers in April to prove we could do it. We stalled the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Coral Sea and we won the Battle of Midway in June. We were battling it out with the Japanese on Guadalcanal, but had gone from defending ourselves to being on the offensive. All during 1942 America was losing the battle for the Atlantic against the Germans but by year’s end we seemed to have the German U-boat threat under control. In November, the US Army landed in North Africa to fight the German Afrika Corps. The American economy was just barely on a war footing and everything concerning the war was extremely uncertain.
In 1967, the United States was a boiling pot of discontent. The civil rights movement, from peaceful marches and sit-ins to outright violence, was in full swing. School and business desegregation put a very uncomfortable burr in America’s saddle. The Vietnam War had escalated beyond anyone’s anticipation with more than 500,000 US troops in the country and body bags coming home every day. Service people were villainized and about 40% of Americans were overtly showing their dislike for the war with sit ins, marches, protests, and violence. There were also a few violent domestic terrorist groups who caused both property destruction and deaths in the name of their respective causes. Because of all the turmoil and the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson was increasingly unpopular and unable to hold the confidence of a growing majority of the American people.
In 1992 Ross Perot was running for president and George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were winning most of the primaries. Then Johnny Carson retired from late night television and America would never be the same. Sometimes I just wish we had a comic with a poorly thrown Mingo tomahawk!
So, please celebrate the New Year with the confidence of knowing that things have been far worse than they are today and America is still here with a bright future, regardless of the obstacles thrown our way.