Things change, people don’t

Published 4:37 pm Friday, November 2, 2018

“It’s always been that way,” Willie said. “No need to pretend it hasn’t. Troubled times bring out the best and the worst of folks. The times don’t create the good and the bad, don’t you see, they just bring out what’s there.

“Sometimes,” he continued, when things go along real smooth, a feller might could go through life sitting on the front row in Sunday School, ‘Amen-ing’ from the corner in church and singing too loud in the choir without anybody ever knowing he was a… well, without folks knowing what he really is. You see ‘em all the time, you just don’t recognize ‘em.”

Willie had come in to unload about the people who blame the U.S. first, no matter what the occasion or the issue, and he digressed as his ardor swelled.

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It takes tough times to show ‘em up,” he declared. “It was the same way in World War II and in the Depression before that. It was the same in Reconstruction and in the War of Northern Aggression. And I suspect it has been the same all the way back to when cave men were facing catamounts with rocks and lightard knots and fighting plagues of frogs and whatnot.

“Look at the Good Book. It’s full of tales about how hard times brought out the best and the worst in folks. Noah, Moses, Joshua, David—they all had to deal with it. I ‘spect if you could go back and know what the sorry folk in those stories were like before trouble popped up—if you could know all the little things about ‘em—you’d find signs that they were the same then as later. Just nobody noticed.

“It’s like they say,” he winked, “a leopard don’t change his stripes.”

“Spots,” I was about to offer, then thought better of it.

“I’ve read and thought a lot about folks like these and what makes them like they are,” he advised, leaning forward for confidentiality, “and I’ve known a bunch of ‘em.”

“Back during World War II, we had cheaters and black marketers and scalawags of all sorts,” he reflected, “but we didn’t have many folks blaming us or sticking up for Mr. Hitler or Mr. Tojo—at least after Pearl Harbor. That didn’t come ‘til later. We’ve already got the rascals now.

“Patriotism was different then. We was all in the same boat, and it wasn’t just about flag waving and singing and talking big. We had folks who were doing patriotic things that made sense.

“We had war bond rallies, picture shows and dances and stuff where you had to buy war bonds to get in. I’ve still got some somewhere. And school chil’n bought savings stamps a quarter or so a week. When they had their books filled up, they could trade it in on war bond.

“The country needed all the steel, brass and iron it could get, so we had scrap iron drives. Some folks gave the iron fences from in front of their homes. The big stacks of mortar shells from out of the park went to the furnace. So did the field pieces on the bridge. Clarke Gurley used to put on Saturday morning picture shows at the Ritz, and to get in you had to bring so many smashed tin cans, or maybe a toothpaste tube—that was when they were made of some kind of metal. Boy Scouts, Sunday school classes, civics clubs, all sorts of folks collected iron and paper because it was important.

“Church circles and all the cut and rolled bandages from old sheets—I s’pose they were washed and all first—for the Red Cross. Clubs knitted gloves, watch caps and socks for soldiers and sailors. Folks donated blankets for refugees. There were drives to get up Christmas packages for buys overseas. They were doing real things that made a real difference.

“People did without—and were proud to do so. That was patriotic. They walked to work. They didn’t eat meat very often—even if they had ration stamps to buy it.

“Everybody was mobilized, not just soldiers and such.

“The point is, people did things that amounted to something, that made a real contribution, not just for show.

“Win, lose or draw, we ain’t going to make any friends among any Muslims in this thing—friend or foe. That don’t mean we ought not to try to keep from irritating ‘em any more than we have to. We need to keep telling ‘em we ain’t mad at Muslims, even if some of ‘em are mad with us. But we can’t let whether or not Muslims might be offended determine how we go after Ben Loggin and that Taliban. They ain’t going to love us any better no matter what we do.

“What we need to do is to start right now getting enough oil of our own so we can tell our Arab friends that ‘getting along’ is a two-way street—so they can’t blackmail us anymore. We need to tell Congress to go head and drill that oil in Alaska even if it harelips all the reindeer in North America.

“And as for what regular folks can do to help, we don’t need no rockathons or whatever, we need to be patient. We need to speak up and put a plug in the news folks and second-guessers trying their best to stir up a row or find something wrong with us or what we’re doing.

“And we need to all learn that when folks get to whining about not returning violence with violence, about it being our fault that those folks hate us, and about bombing in Afghanistan and what in the world we’re doing over there at all, to tell ‘em, ‘Remember why we’re there’.”

You hit the nail right on the thumb, Willie. Wish I’d said that myself.