MARCH MADNESS AND OTHER MUSINGS
By Tim Wintermute
“March Madness” is the well-known slogan for the NCAA College National Basketball Tournament, when hoopsters battle it out on the hardwood, but it also seems an apt description of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. It all takes me back – way back. Not even to November 9, 1989 when the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain came down but more than two decades before that to a school in Kansas where I crouched under my desk as if the inch of laminated wood could withstand a nuclear blast. If the Soviet Union wanted to wipe off the map a place that was barely on the map to begin with, then no place was safe. A couple of years later I saw a poster pasted on a barroom wall in St. Paul, Minnesota that provided detailed instructions for the correct position your body should assume in case of nuclear attack. After bending one’s body over in an extreme position the final instruction was to “kiss your ass goodbye.” Since there was no way to survive nuclear war physically even in bomb shelters, whether in basements and backyards, we had to acquire the skills to survive the “pre-traumatic” emotional and psychological stress of knowing that through “mutually assured destruction” every living thing could be obliterated (a global game of chicken in which neither driver swerves resulting in the apocalyptic absurdity of the winners also being the losers). It was agreed by everyone that it would be insanity to do such a thing and that was the deterrent. One would think that somber rationality would be the way to treat the stress of living in the face of the insanity of total annihilation, but, in fact, it was absurdity administered in small doses of dark humor such as the poster in the bar and movies like Doctor Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb that helped us survive.
I received an interesting historical perspective on sanctions in an email sent to me by a friend I have known since grade school. Having retired as a university professor he no longer feels the need to put his name on what he “publishes” and uses the nom de plume “your old pal” in our email exchanges. “Your old pal” writes in his email that, “The invasion of Ukraine makes it feel a lot like the pre-WWI days, or the interwar period. I'm about two-thirds of the way through The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War by Nicholas Mulder just published by Yale University Press. He traces the origins of sanctions to WWI and the Allied attempts to prevent food and resources from reaching Germany and A-H. Follows the discussion through the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nation, and then through the interwar years. Economic sanctions were at the core of the League of Nations. They were seen as a deterrent to aggressors. They worked in a couple of well-known cases (e.g., Albania, Greece) but these involved very small and not very powerful states. It was believed at the time that the sanctions helped win WWI, although no real investigation was ever conducted on this matter. (After WWII there was a serious study of Allied bombing -- it really didn't work very well). Mulder leans towards those who believe that the sanctions against Germany did not work. For one thing, after the collapse of Russia, Germany and A-H just marched into Russia (especially Ukraine) and took the coal and other resources that they were lacking. German food stuffs in 1918 was nearly at pre-War levels. So was the economic production. A lot of interesting analysis by Mulder also of financial sanctions, not unlike what is happening now.”
My youngest sister, Katie Wintermute, who lives and works as a social worker in a small town in West Tennessee near the border of the State of Mississippi, sent me this reflection. “Living in the south has always been interesting, especially if you are not a diehard conservative republican. I have always wondered why the south is considered the Bible Belt and that has been questioned more with the Covid pandemic. To give you my insight on this as a social worker for mental health clinic is really no different than my insight as a woman who lives in Tennessee. I have heard various stories, mainly shared by my clients, on what the Covid vaccine will do: Limbs on your body will fall off, it will make people sterile, and that more abortions are being done to use fetuses for production of the vaccines. Thank goodness those telling me this do not believe those falsehoods and half of my clients have gotten the vaccine and 75 to 80 percent of my co-workers. However, the main statement I do hear from anti-vaxxers in this area of the south including some of my clients and a few co-workers is ‘If I die from the Covid it is God’s will.’ My reply is always, ‘What about those who you may have infected and have ended up in the hospital or died such as children, immune compromised people, and the elderly?’ Most of the time I get the same reply, ‘Oh, Katie, now you are being ridiculous.’ Apparently living in the Bible Belt means the same as living in this country and the rest of the world, which is to not care for anyone except yourself. Yet these same people proclaim to all who listen that they are dedicated to God’s teaching. It makes me wonder if some follow a different God than I do.
While reading the latest edition of the Chinook Observer, the weekly newspaper for the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State, I saw in the Police Blotter, one of my favorite sections, that on March 20th multiple trailers and motorhomes were reported to be parked on the Seaview beach approach with homeless people living in them. Now, for most of you who are unfamiliar with the Long Beach Peninsula, it is located in the southwest corner of Washington State and gets its name from a twenty eight mile beach that begins at Cape Disappointment where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean and stretches twenty eight miles on its western side to the tip of the Peninsula. Seaview is a small beach community about a mile north of Cape Disappointment and is the closest community to the spot where Lewis and Clark Expedition finally reached the Pacific Ocean on November 15, 1805 some four thousand miles and a year and a half after leaving St. Louis, Missouri.
So, you are probably wondering, what does this have to do with homeless people living in trailers and motor homes on the Seaview beach approach? Well, the Lewis and Clark expedition by exploring and mapping the vast territory the U.S. acquired in the Louisiana Purchase opened up the west for a massive migration of people seeking land that they could own and build their homes on. Tens of thousands of these “pioneers” reached the Pacific Northwest by covered wagon, many of them over the famous Oregon Trail. They had left the East, or other countries in the case of the many who were immigrants, and had no place to call home. Until they found land to “settle” on a “homestead” most of them lived in covered wagons, which were the nineteenth century equivalent of trailers and motorhomes. Those who made it all the way to the Long Beach Peninsula would have discovered that the available supply of land for their homestead ended at the Pacific Ocean. If the Chinook Observer had been around at that time their presence would no doubt have made the paper but instead of being identified in the Police Blotter as homeless they would have been called pioneers.