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History lessons being learned the hard way

By Jerry DeWeese • Guest Columnist | When in grade school, I wondered why my teachers spent so much time teaching history. What did it matter? This was old news. Now that I have reached “old age” status, I recognize that history is full of lessons and it repeats itself. If we pay attention, today’s society may be able to avoid making the same mistakes we learned about in history class.

Lesson I

In 1918, there was a widespread outbreak of Spanish Flu, which turned out to be the second deadliest viral outbreak in history. Vaccines, effective treatments and cures were not available. Before this pandemic ended, 500 million people were infected and 3 to 5 percent of the world’s population died. Although no one alive today can remember this outbreak, it is well documented and the current Covid-19 pandemic is not as “unprecedented” as reports suggest.


Lesson II

In the late 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the President. War was raging in Europe with three dictators taking over the continent one region at a time. The United States understandably adopted an isolationist posture, as the memories of WWII were still fresh on their minds. This policy seemed to say to the United States public, let them (Europe) take care of themselves and it will have no effect on our country.

On a December 1941 morning, we lost 2,400 United States service men and women at Pearl Harbor. At that point, “their” problem became ours as well. Interestingly, our military had a radar operator working who recognized the 183 approaching planes from 137 miles away. No planes were scheduled so a commanding officer was notified. Not wanting to alarm the naval base or public, the commanding officer ordered nothing be done. Imagine the precautions and life-saving measures that could have been implemented, if the advance notice had been taken seriously and publicized.


Lesson III

As the global economy took off, imports and exports increased. During the 1950s, the hemlock woolly adelgid, native to Japan, India and southern China, arrived at the port in New York City in a nursery shipment. Eastern and Carolina hemlock trees were not resistant to this foreign pest. Birds slowly spread this exotic enemy down the spine of the Appalachian Mountains until it reached Western North Carolina in 1996. 

During the last 24 years, all our area’s majestic hemlock have been attacked. If you see one of these forest giants, it is either standing dead, dying or on continual life support through tree-by-tree treatment. There is no large-scale vaccine or treatment available. I guess the hemlock population is fortunate that birds cannot spread trouble as quickly as humans can.

Side note: Before anyone gets too upset at the folks from China, we should remember that these are the very people who gave us the pig, a delicious animal that many of us would not want to live without. In the 1500s, a pig walked down the gangplank behind Henry DeSoto into what would be our country — thus giving us access to barbecue and bacon since.


Lesson IV

In the 1800s, when neighbors were in need, community stepped up without being asked, without wanting credit and without regard of their own personal needs. Families shared food, crops and livestock, helped raise one another’s children, and built homes and barns together. They built a community support system available to all. They bartered, traded, exchanged and swapped. It may sound like a simpler time — it was. 

Our community today is bigger, in fact, it is global, far more complicated, intertwined and focused on individual needs and wants. If you doubt that global economics affects you, pull that cell phone off your belt and see where it was made.

Folks, we are globally in this pandemic together. Like a marriage, we have what we have — for better or worse. No number of guns, — and yes, I have my own — or billions spent on border walls or number of hoarded rolls of toilet paper will protect our community from Covid 19 or future global crises. Being socially responsible and putting others above ourselves will help. 

Use caution as you navigate media commentary and news. Just because “information” is posted on our social media pages and regardless of the number of shares — it is not always fact. Opinions and misinformation can be costly when trying to manage a crisis. News stories are sometimes false or distorted. History has been documented, witnessed and is a reliable source.

Let’s hope those who are able to survive this most recent global crisis can do a better job of working together, selflessly and with only the best interest of community in mind. Let’s hope that we can learn from history, improve reactions and support one another. Prayers for our human race. Stay safe out there – six feet apart, for now.

(Jerry DeWeese lives in Sylva)

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