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Kadner: America is a scary, wonderful place

President John F. Kennedy poses with Mayor Richard J. Daley Chicago family Oval Office White House WashingtD.C. Included are William

President John F. Kennedy poses with Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago and family in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. Included are William Daley; Mayor Daley; President Kennedy; Mrs. Eleanor Daley; John Daley; Michael Daley. The daughters are: Patricia; Mary; and Eleanor [the identities of the children were not specified but their ages were listed, making it possible to identify the sons but not the daughters]. January 21, 1961 photo by Abbie Rowe courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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Updated: December 4, 2013 6:37AM



I was watching a show about survivalists awhile back and thinking, “These people are brain damaged.”

But watching the TV news, scanning the Internet, listening to the radio and reading the newspapers, I can understand why people would want to dig a hole in the ground and look forward to drinking recycled plant water.

It’s a horrible, terrible, end-of-the world crisis out here every minute of the day.

Children are being molested or shot dead in the streets.

Gunmen walk into school buildings, movie theaters, airports.

The national economy is collapsing.

The NSA is spying on everyone.

And if you manage to reach the age when giving up isn’t who you are, the only people who care are the folks making Viagra.

Hey, I get it. I’m in the news business, after all.

The world is a scary, dangerous place. But it really isn’t any worse than the world my grandmother grew up in as a child.

That was a village in Poland, which was once in Germany, or Prussia or maybe even Russia.

You see, the conquering hordes from one country or another were always coming across the border, raping, looting, governing and killing.

“The Cossacks,” grandma would say, in broken English. “They came and whoosh!”

She would make a sweeping motion with her arm over her head, demonstrating how a man on a horse would lop off heads using a sword.

Women and children would hide in the cellars, she would say.

And worst of all, “they steal your chickens.”

That may sound funny, but for people living on small farms at the turn of the century, poultry was life itself.

My grandmother actually was lucky because she left Poland before WWI. Had she been living there in the 1930s, she certainly would have been taken to a concentration camp, starved and ultimately gassed.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would write years later.

The fact that we live in a time and place where almost everyone has a cellphone, big screen TV, microwave oven and computer does make you ponder why so many people are so frightened.

Maybe when you get to the point where you have so much stuff, it’s natural to want to barricade the doors, board up the windows and carry a gun.

I know the economy is bad. Despite the recovery, people still are looking for jobs and those that have them are wondering for how long.

But the rich guys often seem as scared as the folks just getting by.

If I hadn’t read a bunch of books in the past year about America during the period from 1900 to 1940, I might be in a panic as well.

But those good old days people talk about; they were actually pretty lousy.

Life expectancy for working people wasn’t good.

A man could expect to live to 51, in 1909, a woman might make 54.

Living conditions in big cities were so poor that epidemics wiped out entire families, sometimes entire neighborhoods.

An estimated 675,000 people died in a matter of months during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.

As for domestic political discord, by the standards of the early 20th century we’re practically living in Utopia.

In 1920, Wall Street was bombed by anarchists, Americans who were fed up with the free market system.

Ten years before that, union leaders planted dynamite at the Los Angeles Times, starting a fire that killed 21 newspaper employees.

Irish-Catholics, Italian-Americans and Jews all were discriminated against and denigrated for their lazy, greedy, slothful, ambitious and secretive ways.

As for blacks, they routinely were lynched in the South and couldn’t get jobs in big city police or fire departments up North.

Women, well, they were denied the right to vote even after the slaves were freed. If they were really smart, they could go to college and become a teacher or a nurse.

Things did get better in the 1950s for most people in the U.S., although the very real threat of nuclear war would be with people for the next 30 years.

Air raid drills were regular events in school buildings. Children were taught to hide under their desks if they saw a mushroom cloud. And people say teachers were better back then.

In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy was cheating on his wife and playing footsies with organized crime figures in Chicago, while bringing us as close to nuclear war with Russia as we ever would get.

Unlike Benghazi, there were no congressional hearings into the Cuban missile crisis. Americans remained blissfully unaware of what was going on at the White House for decades.

But now things are really bad, people tell me.

No one wants to hear about history. In fact, if you tell people about this stuff from America’s past they call you a liar.

The strange thing is, no matter how bad things are or were, people from other countries always have wanted to get here.

They board rafts, give their life savings to shady characters, leave their families and belongings behind and come to America.

You can’t stop them. I laugh when I hear people talk about building walls and hiring more agents to patrol the borders.

People who live here, those of us who complain, fret and fear for the future, have no grasp of how bad things are in other countries.

It always has been like that.

The big difference, the way I see it, is that in this nation people always have tried to make things better. They’ve always had hope for the future, even when the country and its leaders had given them no reason to hope at all.

You can talk about the Constitution, democracy and capitalism all you want, but in the end I think it’s always been the people who have made the difference because they’ve refused to give up on the dream.

The world always has been a really scary place. The trick is convincing yourself, despite the evidence, that you can make it a better one.



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