By Ted Werth
Today is my 50th birthday and I find some things still confuse me. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s. I’ve been blessed with wonderful parents, incredible siblings and born into the greatest country the world has ever known. I’ve enjoyed the freedoms and opportunities that are only found in America. The opportunity to advance as far as your ambitions and efforts will take you. But I sometimes still find myself confused about things.
You see, my father grew up in a small Kansas town, the German son of great grandparents who, fleeing an oppressive Russia, immigrated to the United States. My parents weren’t rich; in fact just the opposite. Born during the great depression and dust bowl years my dad has told me about how he, along with his brother and sister, would walk along the train tracks looking for coal that had been tossed off passing trains by sympathetic rail workers. Their ability to stay warm depended on them finding enough coal. The dust bowl years were so bad that there was a rope from the house to the pit toilet out back. Because the dust was so thick it was possible to get lost, disoriented and die alone. Assuming you made it back ok you still had to worry about dying from lung infection. Oh yeah, indoor plumbing? Only the richest had that luxury. At 16 my dad boarded a train for San Diego and soon found himself on a ship in the pacific shooting at Japanese war planes; better to get them before they get you. I had an uncle who lied to get into the Navy at age 14; this after riding the rails supporting himself since age 12; he left in part because he had younger siblings who needed what little food and shelter that his family could provide. They were both brave but not unique. It was a fight for the existence of the countries that believed in freedom against those that wanted to enslave the world. When someone tries to tell you that this economy is as bad as the great depression they should be laughed off the stage. Or better yet, slapped. Well not really, but I find such talk an insult to the hardships suffered by those that lived through real economic depression.
My mother grew up in on an Indian reservation. Native Americans weren’t so free to come and go as they are now. Life was tough on the reservation too. To get to school they paddled across the river each day. Government health care was provided; it was far from the best option but the only one available. If kids got really sick they were sent to Salem and often never were seen again by their families. Of course we didn’t have the medicines we have now.
After the war ended my parents met. When they decided to marry in 1947, like her sisters before her, my Mom went to Vancouver, Washington with my dad to get married. You see, until 1953 in Oregon “interracial marriage” was considered bad for society and not allowed.
Much has changed for the better in America over the years but I fear we are now on a path that will take away the great freedoms that have made this the best country in the world to be born into. And this is where my confusion lies.
Our country was born on great beliefs amid great contradictions. The founders considered that “all men are created equal,” that we all have unalienable rights given by our creator and that we have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” All this without government interference. Our Constitution, and the subsequent Bill of Rights, was designed to limit what government can do. And while we espoused those great ideals we allowed slavery, marched Indians to reservations so that new territory could be exploited. Before that we used missionaries to civilize and control Native Americans in ways that are deplorable but largely unknown to most. As late as World War II we put Japanese Americans, U.S. citizens, behind guarded fences, otherwise known as interment camps. I once had a chance to visit with two men who lived in one of those camps. They described to me how notices were posted in their neighborhood giving them a date to report to their internment camp. How they and their parents didn’t understand how this could happen to them; they were citizens who loved their country as much as the next person. They left almost everything behind and when they finally were allowed to return, their homes and businesses were gone. In many ways it was like listening to the story of my ancestors forced march from the Rogue River to the reservation. We’ve come a long way.
Through ups and downs, America has improved and, more often then not, managed to eventually do the right thing. It is a part of the reason people the world over still try to get into this country. Why immigrants still cry when they swear an oath and accept their full citizenship.
Some years ago I was stung by a yellow jacket while driving home from work. The next day my hand swelled up and I went to the doctor. He said it was a staph infection from bacteria on the stinger. He then commented that a hundred years ago I would probably have died from it. Since it was the 1980’s, and not the 1880’s, I took a few pills and went on my way. The amazing medicines we have today were created, in large part, by American ingenuity and a free market system that encouraged people to invest in research in the hope they could discover a new medicine, one that would be so beneficial that they could earn enough to move on to the the next project. Today we vilify drug companies as evil while we enjoy the benefits of their investment. You don’t see many wonder drugs coming from China, Russia or the middle east.
We are spoiled today. I grew up in a in a 900 square foot house with my four siblings. I didn’t know that it was too small. I had friends at school in houses half that size. It was home and we were a family. I never once remember anyone complaining. In the 1960’s we obtained a second car, or more accurately a 1953 Ford Pickup. A few years later we marveled at the new color TV in our living room. Life was good. Opportunity was everywhere; if you were willing to work for it.
During that same time the Civil Rights Act was passed and although racism still existed it was no longer endorsed by society with separate drinking fountains, motels, restrooms and bus seats. In the town I grew up in we were having too much fun to be sidetracked with racism. We also didn’t worry about what our shoes said about us. Our choices were limited to Converse Chuck Taylor’s or Keds; black or white, hightop or lowtop, the choice was yours. Out of 500 kids in my grade school about four of us were minorities. But I never even thought about that fact. Only once did I experience any kind of obvious racism and no one liked that girl anyway.
In the late 60’s things began to change though. The space race showed America at it’s best. That a free, democratic, capitalist society worked better then a communist, government controlled, centrally planned society. We flew to the moon using American ingenuity. We had to. The computer technology that got us there was less then what is in your current cell phone. Slide rules were used by the astronauts and their lives depended on it. But at the same time, and underlying this, was the Vietnam war, maybe the most divisive national undertaking aside from the civil war. The growth in this country of the radical socialist and Marxist movement fermented on college campuses and they exploited our war effort. Instead of coming together they sought to divided the country while they lived out the concept of “sex, drugs and rock & roll.”
The war ended and most of America forgot about the radical hippies. This was a huge mistake. These radicals, spawned in America academia, cleaned up their appearance and moved into our government, public schools, and courts system. I had one as a student teacher in high school. A nice guy. I found out later he was one of the radical leaders at the University of Oregon years earlier. These people quietly began to teach our children, change our laws, and when they couldn’t change our laws they just reinterpreted them to create the law they wanted. We woke up to this when they decided that the constitution included a right to abortion. Traditional America was appalled, but failed to move off of that subject and realize that additional laws were also being created out of thin air while we argued abortion. When I was a kid we had a tactic we called high-low that we used to great effect for snowball and rotten apple fights. One of us would whisper High! The others would whisper Low. We would pause long enough for the air to clear and the first person would lob a snowball towards the enemy. While they watched the high lob come their way the rest of us would plaster them with fastballs that they never saw coming until it was too late. While we were focused on the high lob of abortion and prayer in schools we were clobbered with fastballs as they set up shop in our schools, courts and governments.
While still a small minority, never more than 20% of the adult population, these radicals of the 1960’s have now managed to obtain a working majority in many parts of society. Our schools that once produced the best and most innovative minds in the world are infested with this politically correct philosophy, no longer teaching our kids how to think for themselves but rather to act based on emotions. Many are now convinced that we need to turn over our freedoms in an effort to save the world from global warming. This based, really, on pure emotion. The idea that man can control the earths temperature is laughable to those that analyze the facts. It also strikes me as arrogant; a Tower of Babel mentality. Scientists that support this effort inevitably have a financial interest in convincing the rest of us. Al Gore, who left the White House with less then $1 million, is now worth over $100 million. The mansion he lives in uses enough electricity to power 20 of the houses you and I live in. He offsets this exorbitant use by buying “carbon offsets” from a company he is invested in.
The majority of skilled professionals in medicine, science and industry now come from places like India, Japan and Korea. In the 1960’s, aside from Russia, no other country on earth could even contemplate the idea of exploring space. And try as hard as they did Russia failed miserably. Killing unknown numbers of astronauts on a moon rocket that never proved feasible. By the late 1960’s they gave up. Our only competition was the self imposed deadline, set by President Kennedy, of success by the end of the decade. We succeeded. Where I work, among many other things, we look to help our existing Oregon companies find employees that can run computer controlled machines. To do this we set up college based programs to teach workers the basic math skills that I had learned by 10th grade.
We find our country hopelessly in debt; we depend on the Chinese and Middle East to finance our extravagant government spending. Society’s morals are so backward it seems like right is wrong and wrong is right. Much of our country recently spent a week obsessed with the life of a entertainer with massive flaws while ignoring the deaths of several soldiers who still believe that our freedom and way of life is worth giving their life for. As I write this our government is preparing to foist on us a health care system that will bring visits from government officials to the homes of expecting moms, mandatory visits to our parents and grand parents on their “end of life options.” Cradle-to-Grave control seems to be the goal of those in power.
So where does that leave us? Again I’m confused. I do know none of us in my generation are exempt at some level for not doing more. But maybe good can come from it. Just a couple of years ago American’s saved less then 1% of their disposable income. Now that rate is over 6%. Government tells us that this new level of saving is a problem for the economy. I suppose that you and I saving for a rainy day makes us less willing to look to them for our provision. This is the way America used to be. We were responsible for our own lives. And when times were bad and we had legitimate needs we turned to family, not government programs. And if your needs were born of laziness or on-going poor choices you were on your own. That was tough love. It was also incentive to grow up and act like an adult. Now we buy needles for addicts and hand out condoms in school.
In my confusion I wonder, where do we go from here? Should I even care? I know I’ll do fine, one way or another. I am confident that my kids will do well regardless of what the future brings. But it seems a little selfish to stop there.
There is one school of thought that says that God is in control. That we should pray. Pray for our country, leaders and society in general. I don’t disagree with that. But does our responsibility end there?
Along this same school of thought it is said that since God is in control we shouldn’t get too worked up and just go with the program. After all Jesus said to pay unto Caesar (i.e. government) what belongs to Caesar. Jesus didn’t argue about how much should belong to Caesar; in fact the whole subject seemed like a distraction to him. Jesus focused on souls and we should do the same. I don’t disagree with that either. But on the other hand America came to be because some people got fed up with religious and financial oppression. And how many lives have been positively affected by the churches born out of America. Should those people have just stayed home in England and not tried to make a better country?
And what of our churches? When I look at the big picture I wonder, have we bought into the popular culture? Our christian colleges are more focused on liberal arts then on training pastors and missionaries. Where will the pastors of the future come from? Like machine operators we are woefully short.
I find more of the traditional concepts of placing family before friends, respect for elder wisdom and the valuing of good character over material wealth in current Native American culture then in current American culture. But that too is being eroded by government. Ever expanding programs that push the concept that everyone is entitled to programs to take care of our every need. It is all so confusing.
I know that eventually life on earth, as we know it, will end, and prophecy will be fulfilled. But I’m reminded of Abraham, a man willing to debate with God over the fate of the city of Sodom. A man willing to petition God to save a wicked city from destruction. Abraham believed that if there were even a handful of righteous men in Sodom that there was hope for that society and city to turn from evil. Why should Abraham have even cared? He had already received the promise that his offspring would become a great nation. Why risk the wrath of God for meddling where he didn’t belong? And what about Nineveh? If all that was needed to avoid the destruction of Nineveh was prayer, why did God make such an effort to get Jonah there? Couldn’t Jonah have just stayed home and prayed, avoiding the whole nasty whale episode? Is a government that still believes man has certain inalienable rights that are bestowed by our creator still worth fighting for? Should we just stay at home and pray or is there more that we should do? This is the source of my confusion. As of now, I’m inclined to take action. Yes, I go online and write to my congressmen. I’ve read in the past they they consider every contact to represent several dozen of other constituents that feel the same way. Even though my future eternity is assured I still want my kids and future grandkids to know the freedoms and opportunities I grew up with. I’m not inclined to stand by while freedom slips away.
Note: I would appreciate your comments on this. Both pro and con. Some have suggested that I have a followup with thoughts on what an individual can do, where to learn about the real news, etc. I’m open to all thoughts and if you are reading this you obviously made it to the end, so thanks for reading. ~ Ted