Witless Platitudes

I.   Bad luck doesn’t happen to dead people.

II.  If you don’t know where you are going, you are lost.

III. When life hands you lemons, throw them at annoying children.

IV. Birds poop on cars for a reason.

V. The watermelon never falls far from the tree.

VI. It is better to lend someone your hand than your wallet.

VII. Love is Nature’s way of reminding you that you are not that good at sex.

VIII. When you fart in church, light a candle, and blame your neighbor.

IX. Wisdom is best when it is remembered.

X.  Always tip the hangman.

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Quang Duc

On the morning of June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a 66 year-old Buddhist monk, seated himself in the lotus position at an intersection in downtown Saigon, had a fellow monk drench him with gasoline, and set himself ablaze.

Quang’s’s self-immolation was photographed by Malcolm Browne, chief of Saigon’s Associated Press bureau. Within days the grim, astonishing photo was published on the front page of newspapers and periodicals around the world.

When I saw the photo on the cover of U.S. News and World Report, it changed my life.

It changed my life. What do I mean by that?

Sometimes events redirect our lives: obtaining one’s driver’s license; meeting one’s soulmate; receiving one’s summons to serve in the armed forces.

Other life altering occasions may be recognitions, profound realizations from which there can be no retreat. From that instant forward innocence is lost, perspective has shifted, and every succeeding moment must take the new understanding into account.

The image of Quang Duc’s horrific suicide seared me. It was almost as if I had pushed my face into the inferno he had made of his body. Seeing the photo, I understood this: Quang had chosen this terrible form of death as a protest, an intractable statement that principles and beliefs he cherished absolutely, concepts that forged meaning and purpose for his life, had been violated beyond reconciliation. His anguish was addressed to everyone in the world. It was addressed to me.

I was at that time two months shy of my sixteenth birthday. With regard to foreign affairs, I had so far lived inflated with ignorance, an oblivious blimp floating among the clouds, beyond contact with the contentious world below. My appreciation of American history and international relations was the product of an elementary school education whose purpose was to transmit rudimentary skills requisite for employment in an industrial society and to foster virtuous attitudes toward family, church, and country.

I was aware that the United States was involved in a military conflict with a nation in Asia called Vietnam for reasons that had something to do with protecting that country from a “Communist takeover.” I knew nothing at all about Vietnam, its history, its culture, its people, or what our national stake might be in its future. I had seen a panel show on television the previous summer in which an Australian journalist had displayed a map of “Indochina”, explained the “Domino Theory”, and warned that the Diem (he pronounced the name “Ziem”) regime was unstable and in need of economic and military aid from the U.S.A.

Throughout my childhood in the 1950s I had absorbed the axiom that Communism and Soviet Russia were the greatest peril on earth – to America, to freedom, to truth, to religion, to capitalism, and to right thinking. They had “the Bomb” and they intended to use it on us. In school we had performed “duck and cover” air raid drills and at home we heard frequently broadcast CONELRAD alerts on the radio. The “Reds”, we were told, had erected an “Iron Curtain” in Eastern Europe, had conquered China, and were making daily inroads into Africa.

In the late 1940s there had been a “Red Scare” here in America. Someone had “lost China.” There were Communists in the State Department, in Hollywood, maybe even living right next door to me. The Rosenbergs were executed for giving them atomic secrets; there had been an “Alger Hiss” case, and a House Committee on UnAmerican Activities that summoned movie stars to identify any people they worked with who might be Communist agents participating in a seditious scheme of world domination.

Our soldiers had fought them in Korea. Now we had to sweep them out of Vietnam. There was no middle ground, no room for compromise. It was Them or Us. We were Good and they were Evil.

All these things contributed to a pervasive atmosphere of cultural unease about foreign governments. Who else could we trust other than our own leaders, their wisdom and experience tempered by Constitutional guarantees, universal good will, and an American history of selfless support for the well being of all nations who had not declared themselves to be our enemies?

In Redondo Beach, the seaside suburb of Los Angeles where I lived, the threats and disturbances of international affairs felt remote, a distant clatter of jeopardy that had never disrupted my own life. It seemed impossible that Russian tanks could roll down Pacific Coast Highway as they had done in Hungary in 1956. There was no reason to imagine that Soviet battleships would drop anchor off Palos Verdes peninsula to bombard our homes, hospitals, schools, and churches. Apart from the ruthless homegrown Reds that J. Edgar Hoover had warned about in Masters of Deceit, and who the John Birch Society assured us were holding meetings in clammy cellars in every small town in America, the most imminent danger was from the air. Guided missiles from Moscow could rain down on us at any moment. After all, the Russians already had Sputnik orbiting the Earth, no doubt spying on our every move from 300 miles over our heads.

Closer to home, there had been a revolution in Cuba in 1959. Ragged jungle fighters in olive drab fatigues, organized by a bearded man named Castro, had stormed Havana, overthrown the Batista government, and set up a Communist state. We were so perturbed about it, we would not allow anyone to buy or sell products from Cuba. Shockingly, the new Kennedy administration had botched an armed intervention called the Bay of Pigs in 1961. We didn’t lose wars. Did we?

In the dozens of movies I had seen about World War II and Korea, we always won. Tough, brave men played by Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Robert Mitchum, or Audie Murphy always outsmarted the Germans or foiled the Japanese because we were more courageous, more ingenious, more determined. God was on our side. We were the Good Guys. Weren’t we?

Everybody loved America. Why shouldn’t they? We had given the world Mickey Mouse and Charlie Chaplin. We invented cars and airplanes, movies and television. We exported corn and Coca-Cola, cigarettes and Chevrolets, walnuts and Salk vaccine. We had saved Europe in two World Wars.

In October 1962 the prospect of nuclear war with Russia suddenly became immediate. Americans clustered around TV sets to hear President Kennedy inform us that the Russians had installed missiles with atomic warheads in Cuba. Daring Premier Khrushchev to retaliate, Kennedy had ordered a naval blockade to stop Soviet ships approaching the island.

The crisis was resolved. Kennedy was lionized for his resolute behavior and credited for his bold success. The episode provoked anxious whispers about the practice of “brinksmanship” with nuclear weapons that put all of modern civilization at catastrophic risk should there be an occasion when cooler heads did not prevail.

In June 1963 I basked in blissful certainty. Other countries might be reckless, trigger happy, and self-aggrandizing, but at least America and its leaders were beyond reproach. Our motives as a nation, our hopes as a people, our thrust as a culture were steeped in peace and aimed at prosperity. Our best and brightest people were in charge. We were the Good Guys.

The suicide of Quang Duc abruptly challenged my equanimity. His death was not an act of rage that made victims of innocent bystanders. It was a calculated performance of deepest conviction.I did not know what a Buddhist monk believed or why those beliefs required such a drastic and terrible demonstration. The one thing that was undeniable about it – the great realization that changed my life – was that Quang Duc held beliefs in opposition to those of my country that he was willing to die for.

Whatever Quang’s beliefs might be, they deserved my respect. Which of my beliefs was I willing to burn myself to death for?

That thought led to another. Was it possible that the United States was backing the wrong side in Vietnam? Could the leaders of my country be wrong?

It was the first time that idea had ever entered my head. Could America be wrong?

Why was it up to us to stop a “Communist takeover” in any other country than our own? We were not at war with Vietnam. I trusted that our government, making the decision to send military “advisors” there, had access to facts not generally known to the public, at least not to me. Surely there was sound reasoning in Washington that warranted the effort. We did not make problems; we solved them. Didn’t we?

Having tugged on that thread, it could never be sewn back into the tapestry. What exactly were our aims in Vietnam? Who decided that this was our fight? Could they have been mistaken? Worse, were we being deceived by those leaders in whom we had invested out trust?

Fifty months later, when I received my draft notice from the Selective Service Board, I was drawn reluctantly into the conflict. I had become opposed to the war. Regardless of my attitudes toward Vietnam or warfare itself, I was compelled to accept military service.

By 1967, when I entered the U.S. Army, the Vietnam War had divided the nation as bitterly as the American Civil War. In response to widespread protest against the war, a popular bumper sticker in red, white, and blue declared “My Country – Right or Wrong”.

Displayed as an unequivocal statement of patriotism, the sentiment instead proclaimed a defiant abdication of moral responsibility. A “Country” is not a thing that stands apart from the people who inhabit it. A “Country” is not a geographic necessity, an accretion of historical occurrences, or a declaration of idealistic notions. A “Country” is an aggregation of living human beings whose present behavior may be informed by the past but cannot be bound to it. A “Country”cannot always be “right” any more than a person can always be “right”. When our “Country” is wrong, acquiescence does not serve our conscience. The past does not stamp its endorsement on the present. Patriotism requires the courage to admit when we are wrong.

Under a democratic form of government, we select our leaders to make decisions on our behalf. What they decide is an expression of our collective will. What they do, they do with our approval. We are responsible for their actions.

As citizens of a democratic nation, it is crucial that we have access to facts in order to assess the actions of our elected officials. We are obligated to question their decisions, to understand what they are doing in our name, and to judge whether those actions square with our sense of what is right. We cannot be governed in secrecy. We must never tolerate mendacity or the occlusion of truth.

Quang Duc’s moral outrage was not directed against America, but against rulers in Vietnam that the United States had selected, supported, and supplied without public discussion or approval. His death – his statement – was therefore meant for us, for me, as well as for the Diem regime.

The publication by the New York Times in 1971 of the secret “Pentagon Papers” exposed the extent to to which the American public had been duped by its leaders. The successive administrations of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson had never disclosed the political, economic, and military aid first provided to maintain French colonial domination, and then later to encourage Diem to suppress dissent by his critics, his brutal persecution of Buddhists, and his seizure of Vietnamese resources to fashion an imperial dynasty for his family.

The government of the United States made all of its citizens complicit in creating and sustaining a pointless civil war in Vietnam. Had there been any substance to the vague and flimsy justification that we made war to prevent a “Communist takeover”, why were we the only country that thought so? Was it worth over 50,000 American lives, uncountable hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodian lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars?

Was it worth the fissure of trust between the American people and their government?

Thank you, Quang Duc, for changing my life, for calling on me to awaken, to demand of my leaders that they act with the fullest sense of responsibility, empathy, compassion, and right. That is what the United States stands for.

Doesn’t it?

 

The Customer Survey

I was wrong. I admit it. Here I’ve been thinking all this time that the corporations – the big ones that run the retail chains and discount outlets where I take my custom for groceries, sundries, apparel, and sometimes even a telephone, a computer, or a car – were just heartless, even swinish, multi-national leviathans, bottom liners whose executives only answer to their stockholders, their boards of directors, and the litigants who file the liability lawsuits. I thought our relationship was entirely feudal: they are the ruling class, the lords that own the castles, the land, and the tillage with the protective support of the State, and the benevolent blessings of the Church, and I am the helpless serf who plows their fields, dependent on the meager portion of the harvest they let me keep for myself. I thought they didn’t care about small fry like me.

But I was wrong. It seems that they really do care about me personally. They want to know what I think and how I feel and where I live and how to send me information about the marvelous things I can buy from them. Why else would they always ask me to fill out a Customer Survey?

At first, I was only annoyed. How could Lindaniel, the clerk in the orange and purple smock at the discount department store, insist that my participation in the survey was crucial to his next salary bump? When Kutricia rang up my purchases at the supermarket, why did she always draw a circle with a pink Magic Marker on my receipt and beseech me to complete an online form the moment I have packed away the fat free pretzels and instant porridge into my pantry?

How callous I have been! It was never the fault of the people who swipe my credit card that they must implore me to spend 20 minutes on a survey every time I shop for anything. I was just being selfish. I was irked because I thought I was done with homework when I dropped out of school.

I feel better about the surveys now. It’s gratifying that my opinion matters. I’m flattered. In fact, I want to help.

Here is my suggestion: make the survey questions more interesting.

I accept that there are excellent reasons why the surveyors want to canvass my shopping choices with queries about which creams are most efficient in masking my unsightly blemishes, what cleansers I prefer to banish the coffee stains I’ve dripped on my sofa, which remedies I reach for when my bowels disagree with me about my dinner selections, or which lubricants I like to have on hand when I look at naughty pictures on the internet. But, to be truthful about it, these questions are boring the first time they are posed, never mind the nine hundredth time.

I believe I would rush home and remember to charge my laptop if I were asked to weigh in on questions like these:

“If you met an extraterrestrial in the shoe department at Target, what question would you like to ask?”

A. Which actress do you think is hottest?

B. Do you get to ride in the Popemobile?

C. Do you think these moccasins make me look fat?

“If you purchased a table light at Lamps Plus and a genie popped out when you rubbed it, what would you wish for?”

A. That McDonald’s would serve breakfast all day?

B. A lower rate on your auto insurance?

C. A hotter genie?

“If you met the hottest actress while browsing in Bed, Bath, and Beyond, would you ask her…”

A. To buy you a new waffle iron?

B. To recommend a good wetness shield for your mattress?

C. Does this bath towel make me look fat?

“Which of these products would you like to see on the shelves of your local Kroger Market?”

A. Reusable tissues that are good for sneezes, floors, and kitchen counters?

B. A diet pill that reduces fat and builds muscle without exercise or unpleasant side effects?

C. A microwavable soup that would let you see five minutes into the future?

“When you visit Home Depot, what are you most likely to do?”

A. Shop for a bathroom medicine cabinet that refills itself?

B. Admire the area rugs and be amazed at how long it takes to have one delivered?

C. Find a toilet wand that you could wave at barking dogs and egotistical bloggers to make them shut up?

See what I’m saying? Just jolly up the surveys for me and I will cheerfully surrender my time, energy, and the fractional increment in my electric bill to oblige. It’s not as if I have anything better to do. While I’m in between surveys, I think I’ll run over to the discount department store and follow Lindaniel around for a while to see whether he really deserves that raise.

The NFL Halftime Show

The Mox 110% American Sports Report, brought to you by:

Blast Off Beer – “The Countdown Starts Here!”

Wreckless Insurance – “Don’t Worry. You’re Covered.”

Jakarta Motorworks, makers of the Jitney Super-Mini Truck – “As Cheap As It Gets!”

“Live from Coach Kartemoff Stadium: the Tucson Gila Monsters take on the Lake Placid Kayaks!”

(On the set, five men sit at a semi-circular table dressed in identical blazers with identical shirts and ties. Each wears a rhinestone Stars and Stripes pin in his left lapel and a red, white, and blue ribbon in his right lapel. The backdrop display is the cherry, frost, and azure Mox logo superimposed over twenty smaller iterations of the NFL logo in scarlet, eggshell, and cerulean.)

“It’s the Mox Halftime Report and I’m Delmartin Quilk, here with our analysts, Wilyard ‘Dirt’ Workman, Bernie Brainy, McKinley ‘Spit’ McNitsky, and Rachmed Medrock.”

Delmartin: “Dirt. What do the Kayaks have to do to get back into this football game?”

Dirt: “They’re gonna have to run the football. That’s how you loosen up a defense. Pound the football into the holes between the tackles and just keep pounding.”

Bernie: “The Kayaks have to throw the football. They have to run deep routes and quick outs. That will leave the middle wide open so they can hit the receivers with the football and put the safeties and corners back on their heels.”

Spit: “The Gila Monsters have the best defensive line in football. That’s why the Kayaks will have to make them cough up the football with their special teams. If they get turnovers, they can get the football back and start their drives with good field position.”

Rachmed: “The Kayaks have to be more cognizant of their percentage plays. Last football season, they had a 46.2% conversion rate on 3rd and 17. This year, they average 2.6 yards when they run the football on 1st down. That’s less than 1.5 yards more than their 1st down efficiency with the football in road games and more than 1.8 yards less than their success percentage at home. They have to be smarter with the football.”

Dirt: “In the football season when we almost made it to the Super Bowl, we learned that the most important thing is to secure the football. Coach made us practice it every week. If you’re gonna run, you have to secure the football.”

Delmartin: “As I recall, the most important thing you secured in that football season was your commercial for Blast Off Beer!”

(Boisterous laughter from everyone at the table.)

Spit: “And you fumbled your line.”

(Louder boisterous laughter.)

Bernie: “If the Kayaks want to cut into the Monsters’ lead, they have to put the football into the hands of their wide outs, tight ends, and split backs. They have to throw the football underneath the coverage into open lanes and crossing routes.”

Rachmed: “Last year, the Kayaks were 12 for 48 on field goal attempts outside the 35-yard line. They can get back into this football game if they opportunize their possessions inside the Red Zone and put the the football through the uprights every time they get inside the 20. Their winning percentage increases by 14.8% when they score points with the football.”

Spit: “That’s right, Rachmed. The Kayaks have to play this football game one down at a time.”

Dirt: “The winner is usually the football team that puts the most points on the board.”

Delmartin: “The football teams are coming back on the field. Let’s go to our sideline reporter, Dabetta Plumpton. Dabetta?”

Dabetta: “Thank you, Delmartin! I’m here with Coach Blocklin. Coach, how do you plan to slow down the Gila Monsters’ running game in this half?”

Coach: “Yes, Dabetta. We have to slow down the Monsters’ running game.”

Dabetta: “Do you plan to throw the ball more or use more trick plays?”

Coach: “Yes, Dabetta. We need to score more points with the football. The winner is usually the football team that puts the most points on the board.”

Dabetta: “Thanks, Coach! Back to you, Delmartin!”

Delmartin: “Thank you, Dabetta! We’ll be back with the second half kickoff right after these words from our sponsors.”

The 110% American Sports Report. “Just watch. It’s American!”

Dumb Things Done In Movies – Scene 2

It’s dark in the cellar. We move cautiously down the narrow hallway between the dank wall with peeling plaster and a tall, shapeless stack of dusty cartons, poking the beam of our flashlight at a rat scuttling along the baseboard. We are edging toward a door, never opened before because we have just found the key clutched in the fist of a partially decomposed corpse in a casket disinterred by accident in the back yard. Behind the door there is something creepy, something awful and ineffable, a horrific secret never meant to be revealed. Our mounting dread wrestles with rising panic. The flashlight illuminates a lock flecked with rust.

“REEOWW!” The cat leaps from her hiding place among the mouldering boxes, nearly brushing our face with stiff whiskers in a blur of gray fur.

Cut! Wait a minute. Couple of points to be made here.

First: Apart from the sudden, unexpected hand on the shoulder or the shrill ring of the telephone ripping the dead silence, is there a more shopworn gimmick in the horror flick than the startled cat? Did they really do that again for the billionth time?

Second: When was the last time you personally witnessed a domestic feline behave this way? You never have, have you? Because cats don’t do this! A startled cat does one of two things – cower or run for cover. No cat would ever screech and leap from a secure perch into an empty space or rush toward a threat. Cats save their screeching for other cats. They are not dumb.

It’s the movie makers that are dumb. They are so dumb that, rather than exercise a speck of imagination, they exhume a cinematic cliche so long exhausted that the only suspense it enhances is the viewer’s curiosity: how long will it take these harlequins to spring the startled cat?

Give it a rest, film crafters. After 120 years of movie images rushing past our weary eyes, we are ready to retire the startled cat.

Dumb Things Done in Movies – Scene 1

We are cruising in a Russian submarine, 150 fathoms deep beneath the Sea of Okhotsk.

This is an American movie, with American actors speaking in English. There are no subtitles. The captain gives an order to the mate. The mate passes it on to the other seamen. They speak in English. With Russian accents.

Why? We know they are speaking Russian. What other language would they be using? Why do they have accents?

When you call your brother in Dubuque from your home in Indianapolis, do you hear each other speak with American accents? When you bump into your neighbor in the produce section at the local supermarket, will your chatty cadences sound strikingly American to you?

The Russian scene we invoke is merely an example. It might equivalently be a pair of sous chefs arguing about the sauce in a Paris kitchen, a coven of witches snarling curses over a bubbling cauldron in Budapest, or a knot of snow blind Norwegian explorers sledding  over the Ross Ice Shelf.

The use of accents in dialogue only makes sense when the characters are speaking in an adopted language. It is a pointless contrivance when all the conversationalists are muttering in their mother tongue. Why do filmmakers do this? Do they imagine the scene is more realistic if the characters sound foreign? Do they feel the viewers will be confused if the Captain, in his Russian submarine commander’s uniform, sounds like he took his elocution lessons in Burbank? Are the actors just showing off, because they’re actors and we are meant to admire their vocal versatility?

Stop doing this, movie makers! It’s dumb.

Sarajevo 1914

A centenary approaches.

On June 28, 1914, a 19 year-old Serbian terrorist standing on a street corner fired two bullets from a Belgian pistol into an open touring car and killed Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie Chotek.

The musket fire from Colonial rebels at Lexington in 1775 was hailed as “the shot heard ’round the world.” The gunfire from Gavrilo Princep at Sarajevo ended the world that might have been and ultimately led to all the anxieties we face today in international affairs.

The carefully planned assassination was a botch from the start, its targets were inappropriate, and its occurrence was so strikingly accidental that it almost seemed inevitable hubris for a species gone bad.

By the end of the 19th century, the great nations of Europe, armed to the teeth, were nevertheless trying to recover sobriety with disarmament conferences and address national antagonisms, as well as internal social inequities. Progress was being made on all fronts, slowly but optimistically. Progress itself was an idol. Scientific and technological miracles promised that anything was possible – even lasting peace. The problem was, although peace was the universal ideal, everyone prepared for war.

The June 28th date was portentous. It was St. Vitus Day, an occasion of celebration for Serbia that marked its hard won independence from the oppressive Ottoman Turks. It was also the 13th wedding anniversary of Ferdinand and Sophie. The Archduke, openly sympathetic to the ambitions of the Serbs,was attending military maneuvers in Bosnia, one among the many nations that constituted Austria-Hungary. He had brought his beloved wife with him because, being Slavic, she had been routinely snubbed by the protocols of the Austrian court at Vienna. Ferdinand wanted her to enjoy the royal honors that would be accorded in a visit to Slavic Sarajevo.

On the evening before the Sunday morning parade, seven Serbian conspirators slipped across the Miljacka River into Bosnia armed with pistols and hand-made bombs.

The first assassin, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, tossed a bomb that the Archduke deflected with his arm. It exploded in the street, injuring passengers in the following car and bystanders. A furious Ferdinand maintained his composure until his car reached the town hall where the Mayor of Sarajevo, having no inking of what had just happened, began his welcome speech. The Archduke grabbed his arm and shouted, “One comes here for a visit and is received with bombs?” The confused mayor continued his oratory, as Ferdinand stood beside him fuming, but calm. When the speech concluded, Ferdinand cut the celebration short and insisted that his chauffeur drive him to the hospital so he and Sophie could visit the injured members of his party.

After the futile bomb, the conspirators quietly melted away. Princep went into a corner cafe and ordered a sandwich. On their way to the hospital, the Archduke’s chauffeur lost his way, made a wrong turn, and halted in order to turn the car around. Princep left the cafe into bright sunshine and found the Archduke and Sophie sitting five feet in front of him. He drew his pistol and fired.

In the words of General S.L.A. Marshall (World War I, 1986), “The crime was the small stone that, loosened, brings the avalanche.”

When the last boulders trembled to a stop in November 1918, ten million lay dead on the battlefield. Within the next few years, eighteen million more perished from war wounds: gas poisoning, missing limbs, sepsis, shell shock, starvation, malnutrition, susceptibility to disease.

Four empires had collapsed. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 tried to reconstruct the shattered world in six months according to the designs of the victors. The rushed Conference was characterized by vindictive spirit, self-aggrandizing aims, casual disregard for the future, and, in Woodrow Wilson, quixotic idealism.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was carelessly rearranged as though it were nothing but a platter of Viennese pastries, without respect for the fervent aspirations and ancient enmities of the polyglot peoples involved.

The Ottoman Empire had disintegrated from within from centuries of despotic management, genocide, internal corruption, and ethnic aggregates released from their chains. It was parceled into “protectorates” to serve the oil appetites of the winners.

The Russian Empire was a special case because their postponed revolution, extinguished in 1905, had finally happened in 1917. The Bolsheviks had sensibly withdrawn from the conflict, excluding themselves, in spite of the investment of three million military and civilian casualties, from a seat at the table when the spoils were distributed.

The German Empire, prostrate from industrial exhaustion and the loss of a generation of promising men, was the most harshly punished. Triumphant France demanded cash and territorial reparations intended not merely to repay what she had lost, but to ensure that her neighbor would never have the strength to fight again. The democratic Weimar Republic erected to replace the exiled monarchy was helpless to reinvigorate its work force, its industry, its agriculture, or its financial structure under the crushing weight of the reparations. Labor strikes, food riots, political unrest, and runaway inflation left Germans with nothing to pray for but a savior. Unfortunately, their prayers were answered.

What purpose had been served by so much slaughter? The propagandists had sold it as “The war to end all wars.” Have we seen the end of war? In America, it was cast as a war “To make the world safe for democracy.” Do we feel safe?

Have we made Progress? The incident at Sarajevo unleashed an avalanche. In our time, we still sort through the rubble. Terrorism is yet the weapon of choice for impotent rage and the Princeps of the world have only multiplied. As we recall what happened in 1914, we should consider this: a deranged act by a determined assassin might well loosen a stone. Thanks to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we all live under the slope.

(Those interested in further thoughts on the causes and consequences of the Great War are invited to visit my review of The Long Fuse, by Laurence Lafore on Amazon.com.)