Wars and Rumors of Wars

My Great-Grandmother died when I was in grade school.  By then I had already gotten a bookish reputation, so she made sure I inherited two books from her library.  The first was a religious book, ‘The Manliness of Christ’ published in about 1908.  It represents a very 19th century point of view. 

The other slender volume is “Notable Events of the Nineteenth Century’ published in 1896.  This is a fascinating read. I was particularly interested in the section entitled ‘Progress in Discovery and Invention’ where there are articles such as “The First Steamboat”, “The New Light”, “The Machine that Talks Back”, and “The Unknown Ray”.  Science is represented by “The Century of the Asteroids” pointing out that the first asteroid, Ceres, was discovered and named in 1801, “The Evolution of the Telescope” followed by an article entitled “What the Worlds are Made of” which is, by the way, completely wrong as we know it today. Perhaps more apropos for our time is the article entitled “The New Inoculation”, followed by “Koch’s Battle with the Invisible Enemy”. 

A large part of the “Notable Events” book is taken up by “The Great Battles”.  Here is a list:  Trafalgar, Austerlitz, Waterloo, Sebastopol, Sadowa, Mexico City, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Appomattox, Sedan, Metz.  Some of those are familiar but some I confess there are several I had never heard of before. 

Reminds me of a poem by Carl Sandburg that has this stanza:

“Let it be a series of memorials to the Four Horsemen, to Napoleon, Carl the Twelfth, Caesar, Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Hasdrubal, and all who have rode in blood up to the bridles of the horses calling, Hurrah for the next who dies, He was pretty good, but he didn’t last long.”

War and bloodshed are the curse of humanity.  We need to pray according to the old hymn “Father, stop thy children’s warring madness.” 

At the end of the 19th century the great thinkers of the time believed that mankind was becoming so perfected that war would never again occur. We know how that turned out in the twentieth century.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plotinus postulated that evil was the absence of good, much as darkness is the absence of light.  He was wrong.  Evil is very real and active.

My inspiration for decades has been Archibald McLeish’s essay “Riders on the Earth Together, Brothers in the Eternal Cold” which was written just after Apollo 8 returned the first glorious pictures of the earth from a lunar perspective.  He concluded: “To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” 

It has been my hope that the peaceful cooperative exploration of space would provide an outlet for humanities energies that would be peaceful and productive.  And indeed, onboard the International Space Station there is only talk of cooperation and teamwork.   Maybe there is still hope.

That hope is likely insufficient.  Evil and warfare does exist in the world, it is conspicuously present in the world today.   It is up to the people of goodwill everywhere to blot out that evil and stop our warring madness. 

May the peacemaker’s time be at hand. 

I will leave you with this thought from James Russell Lowell “The Present Crisis” 1845:

“Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.”

About waynehale

Wayne Hale is retired from NASA after 32 years. In his career he was the Space Shuttle Program Manager or Deputy for 5 years, a Space Shuttle Flight Director for 40 missions, and is currently a consultant and full time grandpa. He is available for speaking engagements through Special Aerospace Services.
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6 Responses to Wars and Rumors of Wars

  1. Clay Jones says:

    Wonderful missive, Wayne. The McLeish quote was used in a Jeep commercial with the voice of Carl Sagan, as I recall. It was then, and still is, a powerful image. When Sagan’s voice is paired with this prose, magic.

    Peace for our world is a wonderful endeavor. However, having re-watched “The Darkest Hour” recently, in which Gary Oldman wonderfully plays Sir Winston Churchill, I see the correlation with what is happening in Ukraine, to the argument amongst the elected officials in May of 1940, to sue for peace, or fight. Churchill chose to fight. What shall we, as free citizens, choose?

    Sadly, the path to peace, requires confronting the active evil that you so rightly mention. I wish it weren’t so. How do we make those that engage in an “unjust war” see the error of their ways? Must it always require the sword? History says, yes.

  2. Beth says:

    It is so despairing to see WWII repeated one more time with Russia invading Ukraine. This time with a nuclear threat that hangs like Damocles sword over our pale blue dot. Apparenlty all the men, and women, of good will are not enough to stop one madman. God forgive us.

  3. rangerdon says:

    Thanks, Wayne.

    Like you, I believe that the way out of earthly war, and all the excuses people make for waging it, is in space. It is notable that one of the great generals of history, Dwight Eisenhower, did NOT want the space agency to be a branch of the military – that tells me that he, like you and others who travel the same path, saw space as the great hope for final peace. Of course, those who profit from war have worked very hard to militarize space exploration – so far, failing in their quest twice, and now setting up a Space Force that says it intends to patrol the moon (say what?!). But I believe there is a force to history, and that that force will once again stop the militarization of space. We shall see. In the meantime: thanks for all you do. Keep the faith, and so shall we. DMS, NASA-AESP ret.

  4. As usual your wisdom and insight do not disappoint, Wayne. I have been thinking along the same lines as you as I prepared my brief remarks for the opening of a portrait exhibit at Udvar-Hazy for the 80th Anniversary of the Flying Tigers celebrating the incredible collaboration between U.S. and Chinese airmen in the battle against Imperial Japan in WW II. As the eternal optimist, I continue to hope that we will allow ourselves to look beyond the distrust and fear and find ways to collaborate with all nations on the ISS and on our journeys into deep space for the benefit of humankind and our home planet Earth. Stay safe and healthy! – Charlie B.

  5. Ray Gedaly says:

    Apologies for my pessimism, but I sometimes think the Doomsday Clock has been reset to 1 minute PAST midnight.

  6. Dave H. says:

    Shortly before she passed, my mother told me that the older you get, the less sense the world will make. That was 17 years ago.
    I am Slovak-Ukrainian. This stupid war has brought back memories of my parents and grandparents discussing an event called the Holodomor.

    The pace of recent events is virtually identical to the events of 1939. As you said, we all know what happened.
    Hitler moved on the Sudentenland to “protect German-speaking people”.
    Putin moved on Ukraine to “protect Russian-speaking people”.
    Ever hear of Transnistria? If not, you soon will.
    Putin was 17 in 1969. It appears that history has taught us nothing.

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