Lyrics were always the hardest thing for me to master as a kid. The Beatles invaded American rock-n-roll in December 1963, and appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February ‘64. Invited to join a fledgling band, I discovered how challenging memorizing lyrics to a myriad of tunes really is.
But clever lyrics always captured my appreciation, for I do love simple, well-turned phrases.
Bob Seger spent most of his life in and around the Detroit area. Seger joined a four-man combo in high school, also, with notably more success than I experienced. About 30 years ago he penned "Against the Wind," incorporating a line that stuck with me from the first time I heard it.
"Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then," Seger sang. The realization of what it says hit me like an epiphany. Even now it elicits a grin as it elegantly puts the lie to "what you don’t know won’t hurt you."
We humans smugly think we know so much. Yet, in the twinkling of an eye, we can be stripped naked before the universe in our ignorance.
Last week I took the old Jeep on one of its favorite drives through eastern Newton County. Turning south down Highway 11 toward Monticello, we saw countless hills of fire ants in pasture after pasture.
"If we could just get a little DDT out there," I thought out loud. Back when I was a kid the poison was administered routinely, and there were no fire ants. But DDT gets into the food chain, and eggshells of the American Bald Eagle became too brittle to withstand the gestation period. The bird joined the endangered species list, DDT was banned, and over recent decades Bald Eagles have made a remarkable recovery.
Every once in a while, though, I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then. Although the detrimental effects are known, it seems that periodically some DDT could be utilized, perhaps applied according to the old slogan for Brylcreem hair treatment: "a little dab’ll do ya’."
I guess it all comes down to whether the ends justify the means.
There’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot brewing at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s been brewing since the end of World War One! During the course of "the war to end all wars," in the process of relocating several hundred thousand citizens of Armenia, Turkish troops slaughtered them. Since 1918, Armenians have sought to have this action termed "the Armenian Genocide," a circumstance against which Turkey has consistently and vehemently fought.
Last week the United States Congressional House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 23-22 to describe as genocide the killings of Armenians by the Turks in World War I. The resolution calls on President Barack Obama to ensure that United States foreign policy reflects an understanding of "the genocide" and to label the World War I killings as such in his annual statement on the issue.
This same resolution had passed the same committee stage in 2007, but was shelved after pressure from the Bush administration. At stake, then as now, are diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan, with whom Turkey feels ethnic kinship and relies upon for gas supplies, as well as both nations’ relationship with Armenia in the volatile eastern Mediterranean.
Predictably, Turkey has reacted angrily and has recalled its ambassador to Washington.
Another reason this seemingly innocuous battle over terminology is interesting is that both President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, promised to label the killings as genocide when they were candidates running for president in 2008. What epiphany caused both to reverse field and embrace former President Bush’s stance, one wonders?
"We do not believe that the full Congress will or should act upon that resolution," Clinton told the BBC last week, "and we have made that clear to all the parties involved."
More than 20 nations have recognized the slaughter of Armenian Christians by the Turks in World War I as genocide. Turkey accepts that atrocities were committed, but argues they were part of the war and there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Christian Armenian people.
Clinton acknowledged that the Obama administration has changed its opinion on the issue, saying that circumstances had "changed in very significant ways."
Really? And just how, this country boy asks, have facts which have stood since 1918 changed significantly?
The truth is that as candidates, both Obama and Clinton would sing any song blasting Bush to get elected. But now that they’re in office and privy to details as to how business in a strategic region of the world is conducted, they’ve had to change their tune.
As a caveat, I entreat them to utilize my favorite Bob Seger line, for it surely fits their condition: wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.