Monday, July 31, 2017

Cooling Off

Woodrow Wilson was a happen'in man. As president of the United States in 1913, he did his best to keep his country out of the war, and he was successful for three years. It was only after repeated maritime attacks and a secret telegram inviting Mexico to join Germany in a US invasion, did Wilson boldly go before congress to declare war against Germany and her co-horts.

Standing before them, he must have also been filled with great sorrow. From 1914 onward, he had referred to the United States " the one great nation at peace," and had said in a previous message to congress, "Every man who really loves America will act and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned." How sorrowful he must have felt when his previous words were now obsolete.

In April 1917 America began sending men to fight in France. We would lose over 100,000 Americans in this cause. The total worldwide loss of life was 37 million.

All because...well, some historians can't put the finger on the exact reason why the world erupted into such mad chaos. Yes, there was the shooting of the Archduke Ferdinand by the young Serbian, and yes Balkan tensions were high, and Germany marched through Belgium, but why oh why did anyone think it was a good idea to fight one another?

At war's end, Woodrow Wilson created a plan to end all wars--forever: the League of Nations. He crossed the United States in order to lecture and advocate for a consortium of countries to keep the peace, but after all his passion and work, the League of Nations had its own tragic demise-- congress defeated the right for America's participation. Wilson suffered health problems from the turmoil of its defeat.

The Covenant of the League of Nations charter included 26 articles contracting the various nations into shared beliefs and obligations. When I read the charter of 1924, it reminds me of the United Nations. But a nation who just ended a war, was leery of Articles 10 and 11, clauses that might have brought us into a war once again defending European nations. We weren't ready.

However, one of the many strengths of the League Of Nation's proposal was a required cooling off period. While addressing the people of Pueblo Colorado, Woodrow Wilson addressed an important issue. He said, "You will say, Is the League an absolute guaranty against war? No; I do not know any absolute guaranty against the errors of human judgement or the violence of human passions but I tell you this: With a cooling space of nine months for human passion, not much of it will keep hot."

He then shares with the audience in Colorado, a lesson from two of his friends who were temper-losers, and when they did so, they were in the habit of using "parliamentary language," or swear words. Such was the distaste for swear words in the early 1900s, that a group of friends challenged both men to not swear until they traveled outside the town limits. When the inevitable moments of anger came, the men took a street car outside the city limits. By the time the distance had been traveled, the urge to curse had left. "They came back convinced that they were just what they were, a couple of unspeakable fools..."

The story of the unspeakable fools finds a place in my own conscience. Days earlier, in the company of a friend, I'd dropped a small glass bowl of cherries on concrete and it shattered everywhere. I let loose a curse word and felt like an unspeakable fool, more foolish for the swear word than the fumbling of the bowl.

We want to believe that cursing is acceptable. We watch television and movies replete with heroes and heroines using parliamentary language. I read commentary and essays with the distracting words that take away from real and intelligent discourse. We think if we drop, slip, or goof, it is remedied by a curse.

It isn't. It never will be, and so next time...I'll be on a street car cooling off and thinking of better ways to act, react, and not sound like an unspeakable fool.

No comments: