A Balancing Act
By Patrick F. Cannon
I was born in 1938, so would have been six years old in 1944 when World War II was entering its most dramatic final stages. In those days, we went to the movies at least once a week, and I vividly recall the newsreels, with their reports of America’s increasing battlefield successes in Europe and Asia. One of the popular slogans that kids recited was based on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: “Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk, Mussolini is a meany, and Tojo’s even worse.”
We had no real idea then of the horrible carnage these men had unleashed, even though they were routinely demonized in the press and government propaganda. In the end, I learned they caused the death of between 65 and 75 million soldiers and civilians. Stalin was our ally during the war, but he was no less a monster than his Axis protagonists. For example, in the early 1930s, forced agricultural collectivization caused the death from starvation of at least 4 million Ukrainians. Stalin’s admirer Putin seems to be following in his footsteps.
During my lifetime, these monsters have had many descendants – Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, both Assads; the various Kim’s of North Korea – not to mention the serial killers and mass murderers who seem to fill the news almost daily. Compared to them, and to be fair, Donald Trump hardly measures up, loathsome as he is.
It’s easy then to be pessimistic about the human race; and yet, while these and other monsters were plying their gruesome trades, others were making positive contributions – and are still doing so. No one really knows how many people were kept alive by the development of Penicillin, but its wide availability starting in 1942 certainly saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers in World War II. I think we can gratefully thank Alexander Fleming and his colleagues at Oxford University, Howard Florey and Ernest Chain, with beginning the process of vaccine development that has saved many more lives than Hitler and his ilk were able to end. (If we could have kept politics and religion out of medicine, even more people would be alive today.)
I have said this before, but it bears repeating: abject poverty around the world has never been lower, thanks largely to free-market Capitalism. Advances in agriculture, primarily due to American scientists, are feeding a growing world population. Starvation does exist, but primarily in war-torn areas of Africa. Although you might think otherwise if you believe the doomsayers, malnutrition is almost nonexistent in this country, and is largely limited to medical conditions, mostly anorexia. Do some children occasionally go hungry? Yes, but not because food isn’t available for them.
Although climate change is real, the alarmists who predict the end of mankind don’t seem to have any faith that mankind will find a way to “not only survive but prevail,” as the American writer William Faulkner said in his acceptance speech when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It will be a much slower process than the idiots who throw paint on works of art would wish, but emerging technologies will eventually solve this problem just as Fleming and his successors had found ways to kill the bacteria and viruses that once killed so many of us.
I know how hard it is to be positive when we’re burdened with what seems to be the worst gang of politicians in our history. To stay sane, I try to remember that the Austria that spawned Hitler also gave us Mozart; the Italy that fostered Mussolini also fostered DaVinci; and the Japan that followed Tojo to its ruin has enriched us with the work of Katsushika Hokusai (see above) and, more recently, economic and ubiquitous digital photography.
So, let’s not give way to despair. And why not make that year-end donation to your favorite cause? Or give a buck or two to the next panhandler you come across? It is, after all, the season to be jolly.
\Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon