Sunday, January 2, 2022

From the Archives: New Year's Days in Parlous Times

By Aula Minerva
Spy Archivist

New Year's Day 2021 seemed to offer reasons for hope.  Effective vaccines were on the way.  The crooked depraved Russian-owned bigot who had misruled America for the previous four years was about to be replaced by a decent honorable Democrat supported by a (marginally) Democratic Congress.

How'd that turn out?

If you don't remember, we can't help you.

Let's just say we tread upon a New Year with COVID still epidemic, the United States Government under continued attack by fascist insurrectionists d/b/a the Republican Party, the catastrophe of global warming upon us, and without Betty White.

Not good.

That's why we went back in time to see if past New Year's Days in other times of crisis could offer any words of hope or succor.  Twenty years ago, New  Year's Day 2002, the nation was still reeling from what was then an unendurable loss of human life in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.  That loss was less than half of one percent of the COVID death toll, but at the time it was overwhelming.

No wonder The New York Times offered words of hope:

The shock of a day like Sept. 11 makes the conventions of our lives look merely conventional....But any convention grown old enough acquires a meaning that's as hard to deny as it is to explain.

Hence Jan. 1, a day as melancholy as it is hopeful, completely secular and yet committed by many of us, even ironically, to an ideal of renewal that feels almost spiritual....What we commit ourselves to on the first of the year isn't a sudden increase in talent or intelligence or native beauty. It's an increase in what William Cobbett, the great 19th-century journalist, called ''exertion,'' the best application of the abilities we already have.

How'd that turn out? A hint could be found on page one of that day's Times, and it wasn't good:

The story led off with an anecdote that revealed W.'s motivation in all of the post 9/11 excitement: to make himself look big and strong, and not the clueless weakling who continued to read My Pet Goat after learning the U.S. had been attacked:

It was late on a Saturday, just days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when President Bush was ready to sign an order freezing the assets in the United States of suspected Islamic terrorist groups, the first showy financial strike against Al Qaeda. The order was to be announced, or so the plan went, the following Monday by Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill. But the president suddenly had another idea.

Not much hope here

''I am about to sign this order,'' an aide recalled Mr. Bush saying. ''Why am I not announcing it?''

The staff scrambled, and by Monday morning it was the president, not Mr. O'Neill, who made the announcement, reinforcing the message that Mr. Bush would direct the war against terrorism on many fronts.

Whatever happened to the staff that scrambled so hard to project a false impression of confidence and resolve? Tune in MSNBC any weekday (except Christmas week when your host prefers to languish in St. Barts) at 5 p.m. and find out. Or check out Twitter and other congenial homes to anti-FLG gasbags. They're all there!

Further down, the story dropped hints of the lawless and pointless violence and human rights abuses that would come to represent the core of the Bush/Cheney “Global War on Terrorism:” 

His most assertive action was a November order establishing military tribunals for accused terrorists, but Mr. Bush has also moved to keep presidential papers secret and permitted sweeping government efforts to investigate anyone suspected of terrorism. To help in those investigations, he expanded government wiretapping and allowed the monitoring of communications between some people in federal custody and their lawyers. 

And that was just the chips and salsa at the banquet of pointless bloodshed that led to decades of useless violent war and grotesque torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

What can we say, not much comfort from 2002.

Let's turn the clock back a couple of generations to New Year's Day 1942, when the nation had to confront the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and the reality of war on two fronts against the two most powerful and highly-militarized powers ever seen.   This page one greeted hung over New Yorkers on that day:

That Gen. MacArthur had botched the defense of the Philippines by allowing his air force to be destroyed on the ground after Pearl Harbor would not become known for many years.  Those gay throngs in Times Square would be fed into the maw of World War II, and more than 400,000 never saw New Year's Day 1946.  On the plus side, you got all this for three cents, or 1% of the newsstand price today.  Bad news for Biden!

At least Bloomingdale's was trying to cheer New Yorkers up:

Nice thoughts, but another New York department store knew that nothing was better for morale than a white sale:

And the Times found reasons for cheer:

That's actually not bad, although the bit about being a united people seems strikingly inapposite to our current plight.  (And, spoiler alert, it worked.)

One more New Year's Day, from 1862, when the United States had been sundered by insurrection and treason (sound familiar?).  Worse yet, with disloyal former U.S. Army Generals like Robert E. Lee leading the Rebels, the Union Army had been routed at Bull Run and cooped up in Washington.  The United States knew that defeating the insurrectionists would be a terrible and bloody affair.  

In any event, the Times lead story was full of patriotic good cheer:

And the good news didn't stop with the immense armament secured by the Union.  There was this dispatch, sure to gladden the hearts of the good citizens of Binghamton, N.Y.:

The outcome perhaps generated fewer happy feelings:

During its service the regiment lost by death, killed in action, 4 officers, 49 enlisted men; of wounds received in action, 2 officers, 52 enlisted men; of disease and other causes, 1 officer, 158 enlisted men; total, 7 officers, 259 enlisted men; aggregate, 266; of whom 13 enlisted men died in the hands of the enemy.

There's always a bill to be paid.

But sure enough the Times editorial writers found reasons to wish loyal Americans a Happy New Year:

A cowardly old fool and a Cabinet of knaves?  That's pretty sharp.  Too bad the Times editorial page gave up telling it like it is sometime between 1862 and 2017.

As for the clear purpose and fixed aim, we'll bet that the Times's wordsmith had no idea of the carnage yet to come, not to mention the continuing struggle down the centuries to attain the aims of the Civil War: national unity and racial justice.

So one thing we've learned from the New Year's Days of 2002, 1942, and 1862: for all the hope and good cheer of New Year's Day, the road ahead is at best long and hard.  

Just when we were about to leave you with this gloomy conclusion, we heard from our old friend Barack Obama.  He's not having any of it:

If Barack Obama tells us to look on the sunny side, who are we to argue?  Happy New Year.

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