In 2022, relive 1917 again?

“Never again and again and again,” cartoonist Art Spiegelman once said. The author of « Maus », on the Holocaust, understood something that we did not understand and that we do not understand, that history is deeply embedded in the collective memory. It’s alive.

Just as families repeat generational traumas, societies collectively piece together their terrible histories. Is it part of the deep streak of human nature not to learn from tragedy?

During a slow and unpredictable post-COVID recovery, I was reading political history, always useful as the publishing industry continues to produce stellar work as journalism struggles to survive.

First a respite, it became a shock. I have the strongest feeling that we are living in the late 1910s again. In difficult times, nostalgia is attractive but only for innocuous recent things: 70s decor; Carnaby Street fashion. Only climate change is really new.

Surely it wasn’t nostalgia that sent us back to 1917. It must be habit. As told in Antony Beevor’s story of 1917-1921, « Russia », as the Tsarist Empire crumbled, Vladimir Lenin’s Red Army began a reign of terror resembling that of Vladimir Putin today.

We hear about Putin forcing untrained young conscripts into an unpopular war against Ukraine. In 1917, Tsarist conscripts injured themselves to avoid combat and surrendered to the Bolsheviks just as they are now. They did the same to avoid Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Torturing its own soldiers is a Russian tradition that continued under Stalin during World War II. In 1917, the chronicler of the time, Maxim Gorky, wrote: “Lenin is not an omnipresent magician but a cold-blooded trickster who spares neither the honor nor the life of the proletariat. And so did Putin in the century that followed, again and again and again.

And Adam Hochschild, famous author of « King Leopold’s Ghost » about the Belgian mass murders in the African colonies, wrote « American Midnight », a history of the forgotten years of the First World War, the Spanish flu and the tyranny of the public companies.

In 1917 America was in convulsions as it is now. The workers were brutalized, exploited and angry. President Woodrow Wilson encouraged a prolonged campaign of extreme violence against workers and unionization.

Freedom of expression is dead. A government department has been created to illegally spy on American citizens. It would become the FBI and be handed over to a sinister young man named J. Edgar Hoover, who would rule for 50 years.

The Spanish flu hit Americans hard, more violently than today. Yet some still refused to hide. Women did not have the right to vote; the very idea of ​​women gaining any kind of power horrifies men, especially in the area of ​​employment. Women competing with men? Blacks mixing with whites? The United States teeming with immigrants? Jews were hateful targets as they increasingly are now.

« It’s a nation, » roared Theodore Roosevelt, « not a polyglot boarding house. » Lynching of black people was commonplace and of almost indescribable duration and horror. Hanging was a constant threat, as it was on January 6, 2021 at the Capitol.

American soldiers embarked locals in the Philippines and returned home to do the same with the Americans. « Take the good ol’ syringe boys and fill ’em to the brim / We caught another n—-r and we’re gonna operate on him, » they sang as they did to union organizers and striking miners .

These are all questions that plague Americans today. Today’s Oath Keepers, currently on trial for seditious conspiracy, are the American Protective League and the 1917 Anti-Yellow Dog League.

In 2022, an « originalist » Supreme Court killed the right to abortion and targeted contraception. It sounds very 1787, very 1917, but with a little twist. There are 400 million firearms in the hands of a population prone to violence.

The United States is a violent nation, it always has been. It’s just a question of who is the target of the violence.

On November 22, 1963 (Tuesday was the 59th birthday), JFK said to his wife as they left for Dallas, « We’re heading to the land of fools today. Has Texas changed? Has the nation or the world changed?

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