Now We Know is an editorial piece written by Tim Clark and shared with The Ugly Writers under the theme Shining Bright / Deepest Black for the month of November
Now We Know
Late in the 15th century Christopher Columbus approached the rulers of Spain, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand and told them he could get to India by sailing west. Finding a new route was important because Muslim countries controlled the trade routes and they were still a little steamed about the Crusade, making it uncomfortable to ask for permission to take a convoy of wagons across their territory.
What could go wrong, they reasoned? Everybody had become convinced the world wasn’t flat. Well, not everybody. There remained skeptics. A lot of people pointed to Vandino and Ugolino Vivaldi, Genoese sailors who had disappeared in the 13th century tying to sail to India, though it remains unclear whether they were going to sail west, a la Columbus, or south around Africa. Either way, the people who felt the earth was flat were convinced they knew what had happened.
This is not historically judgmental, there are people who believe the earth is flat. Though, one time, three years ago my wife and I rented a decommissioned fire lookout on the top of a mountain in northwestern Montana. We had to carry food, water, Diet Coke, beer and a bottle of bourbon a mile uphill from where we parked. According to my Fitbit it was 111 flights of stairs. It almost killed us. When When my wife rented the place I told her the climb would be brutal and potentially lethal, she said “What could go wrong?” It was all the proof I need the world is not flat.
Anyway, Columbus sailed across the Atlantic and landed on the American continent. Since he didn’t know any better he assumed it was India. He made the trip several times and being European in that period of time he just assumed it belonged to him, and Spain, of course. And being Spain they just assumed nobody would mind if they just moved in and acted like a rude, destructive rock band, tearing up the plumbing and smashing the furniture, breaking windows and wall board, and running up huge room service bills… Well, you get the idea.
“What do we have to worry about?” Thought the Spaniards.
Eventually, the rest of Western Europe started looking at this new continent, that wasn’t Asia, not even close, and decided they wanted a little piece of the pie. That’s what Europeans did at the time. Things were going so well everywhere else what did they have to lose? What’s another war when real estate is involved?
Soon, the whole eastern part of the continent, which wasn’t India, was filled with European settlers. Many were seeking opportunity, so the first thing they did was grab all the land they could from the natives, who didn’t understand owning property, feeling it was more of a partnership, a symbiotic relationship, so they didn’t put up much resistance.
A large group of the “illegal aliens” were escaping religious persecution. Naturally the first thing they did was start converting the heretics, at the end of a whip, if necessary. But, it was for a good cause, right?
In time, a giant nation was born. Based on certain principles of freedom and liberty. As long as you were European and Christian. It seemed like a good idea. A promised land forged in the furnace of an enormous wilderness, a land of almost limitless potential, where a man could live off the sweat of his brow. If that wasn’t enough there were slaves to pick up the slack. Still, the dream was alive, if you had money or land.
America was, in the words of Abraham Lincoln,”the last, best hope of earth.” A golden phrase, with beautiful echoes of liberty, freedom, equality for all. It caused a terrible ripple of anxiety, cresting in waves of anger that ripped the young nation in two.
For four long, terrible years armies marched across the landscape, leaving the countryside scarred and smoking, carving wrinkles of anguish and pain in the faces of soldiers and civilians. Six hundred and twenty thousand soldiers were killed, the south lay in ruins, the war took on a life of its own until the confederated states surrendered in 1865. All in a days work, I guess.
Somehow, America bounced back from the bitter divisions that were gouged into the national psyche. There was still plenty of hate. Monuments to confederate generals are still being debated, and confederate flags were carried through the capitol building on January 6th. A new president was inaugurated despite the thunder crashing, the burning embers of bitter resentment. “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.”
America has reached the grand old age of 245 years, give or take, depending on what you count as the birth date. Longer than the Mongol Empire, the Assyrian empire, the Macedonian Empire or the Persian Empire, just for comparison, they battled until the bitter end.
America is still fighting, each other, for the most part. War has become prohibitively expensive, a new main battle tank costs over six million dollars, a new fighter plane over seventy-eight million, so we have to work off our national aggressions on the streets of our cities. Protesters clash, fists fly and recently a child with an assault rifle crossed state lines to protect property that wasn’t his. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
He shot three people, two of them died, one suffered such an awful wound his life will never be the same. The jury found him innocent of all charges. A lesson was learned, if you feel threatened you can shoot somebody. Even if you are someplace you shouldn’t be waving a rifle, which most people would probably find a little threatening. Well, trouble is as trouble does, and he was just walking down a street with a gun, a street filled with angry people, what choice did he have but to shoot someone? Somehow it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. “All God’s chillun got guns.”
Now, we are watching the nation tear itself to pieces again. It starts at the highest level, and spreads like a plague through the the population. There doesn’t seem to an antidote to the madness, it has all the characteristics of fallout, you know it’s coming, but there is no way to escape it, not for long. Insidious and irresistible. “I couldn’t tell if the bells were getting louder, the songs they ring I finally recognize, I only know hell is getting hotter, the devils getting smarter all the time.
Columbus never found Asia, or India. But, he found someplace. A nation born with noble ideals, lofty proclamation’s and boundless violence. It hasn’t changed very much. We still have all the platitudes and empty promises, but nobody ever really figured out what any of it means. It was a good run. What could go wrong? I guess we’ll find out.