This is a little different than my usual focus on state and education policy, but I cannot help but reflect this week on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. For many in my generation (I am 31), the run up to the Iraq War was a coming of age event.
The run up for me actually started well before 2003. I remember, as an 8-year old, sitting in my grandparents’ living room in Alton, IL hearing my grandpa call to my dad to come watch CNN because Kuwait was being invaded. We all thought he was messing around; my dad had recently returned from a business trip in Kuwait City and such a joke was in my grandpa’s wheelhouse. But of course, he was serious.
Over the next few months I was glued to the story. Heck, I can still remember watching the tracer fire over Baghdad on my parent’s old Magnavox the night the air war began. My dad went back to Kuwait City after the first Gulf War ended and came back with stories of the brutality of Saddam’s forces.
Admittedly those stories stayed in my mind as the debate preceding the U.S. invasion of Iraq reached a fever pitch in 2002 and 2003. At the time I was a Political Science major at Marquette; seemingly the only one arguing that the war was justifiable. My argument, which I gave on a daily basis because the issue dominated classroom discussion, was that Saddam was a tyrant that we had the power to remove. Of course it was justifiable.
Just like in 1991, I was glued to the TV coverage of the invasion. When the statue of Saddam Hussein fell in Baghdad I turned to my roommate, a strong opponent of the war, and said, “you see.” His response? “This is just getting started.”
It was the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in August 2003 that made me realize how right he was. Over the next years I, like everyone else, watched, read, and tried to make sense of Fallujah, Mission Accomplished, Al-Zarqawi, Abu Grhaib, Muqtada al-Sadar, the surge, and the never-ending cycle of sectarian violence.
Now, ten years later, U.S. troops have left Iraq, Saddam Hussein is gone, and thousands of lives have been lost or forever changed. I am still struggling to make sense of it. Clearly, my thoughts and arguments in 2003 were far too simplistic and ignorant of the reality of war and occupation. I guess the only thing I do know is that the U.S. experience in Iraq will forever change the way I, and I imagine many in my generation, think about the consequences of a rush to war.
I was a sophomore in college on September 11, 2001.
I woke up at 7:30 that Tuesday morning, put on my old Cubs hat, and walked across the campus to my composition course. I still remember the lesson, we were discussing the various types of citation styles, Chicago style, MLA, etc. The class began at 8:15, 8:48 passed and went. Incredibly bored, I stared at the clock and finally got out at 9:30.
Like I did every Tuesday and Thursday, I went to the Villanova University student union for breakfast. The union has dozens of televisions that broadcast the news, sports, and other programming at all times. By 9:30 all of those televisions were tuned to CNN, or the local news. But the only sign I saw that something was amiss was a curious comment from Andreas Bloch.
Bloch was a German member of the basketball team; he had a nice shot but was not overly impressive on the court. My only relevant memory of him was on 9/11. As I walked through the union I overheard Bloch saying something to the tune of “something hit the World Trade Center.”
My first thought was to dismiss the comment. If something significant had happened I would have seen it on CNN.com earlier that morning. Nonetheless, I made my way back to by dorm room to turn on my T.V.
Walking to my building, there was little to indicate that there was anything wrong. It was a crisp, beautiful fall day. I entered my tiny room, turned on my tiny T.V. and immediately saw the helicopters flying around the north tower. It was a close-up shot, and the announcers on CNN had already concluded that it was an act of terror, and were speculating on who would do this.
Like everyone else I was stunned, and remained stunned as the events of the days unfolded one after another. That night I, along with most of the campus, attended a prayer service at the Pavilion (Villanova’s on-campus stadium). On the way home the skies were quiet. Except for the occasional formation of A-10’s flying up and down the east coast, the skies would remain quiet for days.
The next morning I woke up, checked CNN to see if the day before really happened, and went for a run. I was astounded by all the American flags. They were everywhere.
I don’t write this because I think my experience on 9/11 was especially profound or unique. I am sure most can remember that day in minute detail; it was one of those rare moments where every American shared a collective experience. I am sure most remember the fear and confusion in the months and years following 9/11 as well. Because the unfathomable had happened, Americans naturally wondered what other unimaginable thing could come next.
Most memorable to me, however, was the unity that an attack on our own soil, our own unique nation, brought. Eleven years later the oft-dysfunctional and hyper-partisan reality of our politics has returned, yet the United States (and of course Wisconsin) remains an idea more important than any political party or agenda.
The idea that all people have the right to live as they see fit as long as they respect others rights to their opinions and lifestyles is, to me, the idea that was attacked on that Tuesday morning. It is an idea that is worth remembering and reflecting upon on this sad anniversary.
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 9:34 am
Okay, he was talking about the depression, but it still holds beautifully:
It is only the story of those Americans who yielded irrationally to professional seers and visionaries, as yokels yield to travelling [sic] corn-doctors and evangelists… Are the rest of us in the same boat? I doubt it. The boat we are in is getting some unpleasant rocking from the foundering of the other, but it is tighter of seam and will survive. We have all lost something, but not many have really lost everything. In actual values, the country is still rich, and any man who owns any honest part of it still has that part, and will see it making money for him when the clouds roll by… It seems to me that the depression will be well worth its cost if it brings Americans back to their senses. Once they rediscover the massive fact that hard thrift and not gambler’s luck is the only true basis of national wealth, they will discover simultaneously that a perfectly civilized and contented life is possible without the old fuss and display.
Begin reading Mark Twain’s novel “The Gilded Age,” and you’ll discover a fascinating and humorous story about settlers in early Missouri. Its pages contain love, intrigue, and adventure.
But then, in Chapter 15, Twain (along with his co-writer Charles Dudley Warner) launches a broadside attack on Congress. See if this sounds at all familiar:
“If you are a member of Congress, (no offence,) and one of your constituents who doesn’t know anything, and does not want to go into the bother of learning something, and has no money, and no employment, and can’t earn a living, comes besieging you for help, do you say “Come, my friend, if your services were valuable you could get employment elsewhere – don’t want you here?” Oh, no. You take him to a Department and say, “here, give this person something to pass away the time at – and a salary” – and the thing is done. You throw him on his country. He is his country’s child, let his country support him. There is something good and motherly about Washington, the grand old benevolent National Asylum for the Helpless.”
Recently at WPRI, we’ve been trying to call attention to government employee salaries and benefits. Twain was on the same page:
“The wages received by this great hive of employes are placed at the liberal figure feet and just for skilled and competent labor. Such of them as are immediately employed about the two Houses of Congress, are not only liberally paid also, but are remembered in the customary Extra Compensation bill which slides neatly through, annually, with the general grab that signalizes the last night of a session, and thus twenty per cent. Is added to their wages, for – for fun, no doubt.”
My new commentary is up over at the mothership; it attempts to draw a parallel between Congressman Paul Ryan’s attempts to repeal the new health care law with former Wisconsin Senator John J. Blaine’s successful attempts to repeal prohibition in 1932. (Although, as the last paragraph points out, prohibition prevented individuals from doing something they wanted to do - drink – while the current health care bill forces many people to do something they don’t want to do – purchase health insurance.)
In my research for the piece, I ran across an awesome old Milwaukee Sentinel column from 1932 by a man named Gunnar Mickelsen, who vigorously defended the benefits of drinking. And it may not even fit in well with my column, but it was too awesome to leave out. I couldn’t help myself. Here’s his logic for why drinking is necessary to society:
“Now, it is our theory that Milwaukee was happy because it talked. The urge to hold conversation, to communicate ideas and experiences is one of man’s major motivations. It is behind most of his endeavors and his works. Deprive him of the privilege to talk and you rob him in no small measure of his ambition to do.
What use are actions if he can’t talk about them later? The man’s ego who is satisfied at the mere doing, without telling others or hearing their praise or criticism, is a rare fellow. The happiest persons are those who have something to say, know how to say it, and are given the opportunity to do so.
Beer and wine make for conversation. There is in liquors of mild alcoholic persuasion that which quickens the flow of the thoughts in a man’s cranium, loosens a notch the belt about his reticence, and releases upon his tongue the fruits of his meditations. It is for precisely this reason that men have resorted to alcoholic drinks as a means to make their companionship more vivid and happy.”
There you have it – people only do important things so they can brag to friends about them. And liquor makes people talk more. Ergo, without alcohol, nobody would really do anything, since they wouldn’t be able to boast about what they did. Simple as that.
I, personally, think it’s air-tight. In fact, I had a couple beers just now, so I could brag to you about my column. Only reason I wrote it, really.
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 2:13 pm
A few weeks back, the Wisconsin Historical Society held their “Odd Wisconsin” exhibit, where they lay out various interesting Wisconsin historical artifacts for public inspection. The coolest thing there was a hand-written speech by Abe Lincoln that he delivered in Milwaukee in 1859, although I’m not sure how that counted as “odd.” It was mostly just awesome.
I chuckled at this 1912 anti-women’s suffrage poster, which claimed that allowing women to cast ballots would be doubling the “irresponsible vote.”
There was also an anti-suffrage poster (which I can’t find in the online collection) that depicted a woman juggling a baby, a frying pan, a broom, and a ballot. The implication was that we can’t expect women to be able to juggle all of those responsibilities and still be expected to vote. Just crazy.
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 2:48 pm
Despite the state facing a $5.4 billion deficit, it appears Wisconsin taxpayers are about to become the proud owners of Supreme Video, an adult video store in Oshkosh. In order to clear land to widen U.S. Highway 41, the state Department of Transportation is negotiating to purchase the video store, rather than using eminent domain. There’s no word on whether taxpayers will be able to lay claim to the store’s contents.
Of course, during the negotiations, there appears to be no discussion of what a historical site Supreme Video has become in Wisconsin politics. You may remember that Supreme is the place former Wisconsin State Senator Gerald Lorge was arrested in August of 2000, for soliciting sex from an undercover male police officer. From the Wisconsin State Journal’s account:
Former state Sen. Gerald Lorge exposed himself to an undercover police officer at an adult bookstore and then begged the officer not to arrest him, according to a complaint charging him with lewd and lascivious behavior.
The charge was filed Tuesday in Winnebago County Circuit Court involving an Aug. 2 incident at Supreme Video in Oshkosh.
Lorge, a 78-year-old Republican from Bear Creek, faces $ 10,000 in fines and nine months in prison if convicted of the charge.
The complaint said Lorge exposed himself to an undercover police officer while in a booth at the store and asked the officer to perform oral sex on him.
After he was arrested, Lorge told the officer that he had been ”a state senator for 30 years and that this would ruin him,” the complaint said.
Of course, that is the sanitized version of what happened. At some point, I had in my possession the actual police report, which likely remains the funniest legal documents ever produced in Wisconsin. I’d try to quote from it, but I’d want to get it just right, and the actual details probably don’t belong on this blog anyway. Just trust me – it’s one of the more fantastic arrest reports that has ever existed.
In any event, the state is about to own this site. So highway or no highway, I think the DOT could at least commemorate the piece of land with a plaque of some kind. It deserves at least that much.
UPDATE: The text of the criminal complaint has been obtained. Get your popcorn and read it here.
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 9:09 am
If you go to enough conservative events, eventually you’re going to hear the “S” word bandied about. Inevitably, someone will warn of the impending doom if the “socialist” Democrats take over. While I’m certainly sympathetic to the cause, I generally to bristle at these attempts to tie modern Democrats to the murderous regimes of Lenin and Stalin. Nancy Pelosi’s reconstructed visage may break my HDTV, but I’m guessing she’s not going to steal and murder my children.
In any event, if any state has a history of being friendly to socialism, it is Wisconsin. Milwaukee famously elected three Socialist mayors in the first half of the 20th Century – a feat unique to large American cities. The State Senate and Assembly often housed members of the Socialist Party in the ’20s and ’30s – in some years, there were more Socialists than Democrats. Yet while they were socialist in name, rarely did they govern as Socialists in practice. (Much of this is detailed in Robert Booth Fowler’s excellent new book “Wisconsin Votes.”)
It’s even more interesting when one examines the modern Democratic agenda and its roots within the Socialist movement of the early 1900′s. For instance, look at many of the current Democratic talking points: We have to tax excessive oil profits. We have to tax hospital profits. Insurance companies are charging us too much, so we should have government take over health care and tax business to pay for it.
If these sound familiar, it’s because these attempts to “tax the profiteers” have been around for the entirety of Wisconsin’s history. And predominantly from the Socialist Party.
Check out this campaign flier from Socialist Party candidate for U.S. Senate Candidate Victor L. Berger, in which he vows to “Tax the Profiteers.” (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Online Collection)
Again, this doesn’t mean modern Democrats and the vile European Socialist Regimes are married to one another. But at the very least, they are pen pals.
SIDE NOTE: Berger, who was one of the founding members of the Socialist Party in Wisconsin, had a phenomenal public career. From his Historical Society biography:
Berger was elected the first Socialist member of Congress and served from 1911 to 1913. He was reelected in 1918 and 1919. Congress excluded his seat on grounds of sedition, a charge for which he was sentenced to a 20-year prison term. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed this decision in 1921. He was allowed to take his seat when reelected in 1922.
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 11:10 am
I was doing some research the other day, and ended up digging through a 1903 copy of the Wisconsin State Journal (don’t ask why). While somewhat tedious, it provides a fascinating look into life around the turn of the century, while Wisconsin was still feeling its way around as a state.
Of course, back then elected officials were as big as celebrities got. There weren’t any movie stars or nationwide sports stars that dominated the media like they do today. As a result, elected officials often served as pitchmen for certain products – a practice that seems inconceivable today.
Take, for example, the ad below for some bogus tonic called Pe-Ru-Na, which is supposed to cure all “Catarrhal Affections.” (A catarrhal affection is one that deals with “inflammation of a mucous membrane, especially of the respiratory tract, accompanied by excessive secretions.” In horses and sheep, it can cause “bluetongue.” Enjoy your lunch.) You can click on the image to see a bigger version:
As you can see, Congressman Zenor of Indiana isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for Pe-Ru-Na. Apparently, over 40 members of Congress also swore by this snake oil. The first paragraph reads:
“No other remedy invented by man has ever received so much praise from men of high station as Peruna. Over forty members of Congress have tried it and recommended it to suffering humanity. They use it themselves to guard against the effects of the intense strain of public life; to ward off the ill effects of the changeable climate of Washington. They keep it in their homes for family use. They recommend it to their neighbors, and they do not hesitate in public print to declare their appreciation and endorsement of this greatest of modern remedies.”
Well, I’m convinced.
In today’s world, when legislators’ financial interests are examined, observed, and taken apart, it seems inconceivable that any current elected official would appear in an ad for a common product. That’s what we have William Shatner for.
In order to show how jarring this practice would be today, imagine these:
Of course, that’s not where the oddities in the 1903 end.
In the event that anyone thinks the current legislature lacks seriousness, take note that in March of 1903, an unnamed legislator introduced a bill that sought to “repeal the law of gravitation.” (In those days, bills could be introduced without an author’s name attached.) The text of the bill was as follows:
Section 1. The law of gravitation, as discovered by one Isaac Newton, is hereby repealed, and the rule of “Stop, look, and listen!” as announced by the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin, is substituted therefor.
Section 2. The Act shall be in force from, and after the passage and publication of the “Woman Suffrage Act.”
Of course, women couldn’t vote in 1903, which is what made that such a joke. Essentially, they were saying the anti-gravity bill would take effect when hell freezes over (i.e. when women could vote.) In fact, 1903 was the first year any legislator in Wisconsin actually introduced a bill to give women the right to vote. But without question, introduction of this bill caused much laughter, rejoicing, mustache stroking, and gunplay in the Assembly chambers.
Among other bills considered in the 1903 session:
1. A bill making three years of insanity a cause for divorce;
2. A bill prohibiting kissing in public;
3. A bill barring marriage between whites and “mulattoes;”
4. A bill requiring banks to close at noon on Saturdays; and
5. A bill requiring “hospitals for the insane” to have departments to deal with “dipsomaniacs, inebriates, and those addicted to the excessive use of narcotics.”
If I could wish for anything, it might be the time and patience to go back and sift through these old papers. This stuff is just fascinating.
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 4:48 pm
The Wisconsin Historical Society is a wonderful repository of arcane tidbits about our state’s lineage.Â To show that they leave no detail unturned, feel free to visit the online photo gallery they have dedicated to Wisconsin’s Historical Beards.