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Historically Speaking

COLUMN: We are constantly … at war

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Telling the 'big lie'

David Christy

The word war brings with it a certain connotation in people’s mind — and in mine — that says hostility, conflict, antagonism, death and destruction.

Today, I’m using the second definition of war from Websters: a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.

Society, and its people, are constantly at war with change.

Think about that one for a minute.

We get comfortable in our lives, in our skin, in our memories, in our loves and hates, in our politics, in our eating patterns, in our living day-to-day life patterns.

It’s easier to get comfortable than it is to change.

And yet, as inevitable as death, change is just as inevitable.

I left out the taxes portion of the old death-and-taxes-are-inevitable maxim, because a whole lot of rich people and corporations apparently don’t pay taxes, so I will just dispense with that one.

That’s a grievance for another day.

Historically, change has been at the very forefront of civilization, from early man, through the great empires of history in Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Chinese dynasties and on.

The pages of history often record these as being slow, inexorable and nuanced changes that made the lives of peoples better, or much worse.

It all depended on the change.

Change can be brought on by many things. War — the real war — used to be one of the biggest changers of society. When a neighboring people or despot wanted your land, your wealth or your crops, they took it by force.

That’s not the change I’m writing about today.

Here in America, change in our history seems to be that change that reaches a particular end.

I’ve been watching the AMC series “Hell ON Wheels,” a loosely historic piece about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad by the Union Pacific from Council Bluffs, Iowa, toward the west, and the Central Pacific from San Fransisco Bay, to the east.

If you remember from your history, they met at Promontory Summit in Utah, where the golden spike was struck into the last wooden tie, holding rails that would astronomically transform transportation in this nation.

Other great changes in American society can be seen in slightly lesser innovations, like the telephone, the telegraph, stage coach, the Pony Express, the airplane and on and on.

How we dealt with disease, advances in medicine, the Great Depression, drought and severe weather all brought about change in American society.

But the crossing of the Transcontinental Railroad, linking the East Coast with the West Coast, brought about — in just a tiny fraction of years — the complete transformation of this continent.

Before the railroad, it would take months to cross the vast America prairie, through the Rocky Mountains and other ranges, crossing wide and sometimes wild rivers and dealing with extreme weather to get to another part of America.

The railroad bridged all that, making it easier, cheaper and vastly less dangerous — dealing with wild animals and Native Americans who for obvious reasons didn’t like strangers crossing and stealing their lands.

The railroad — for sometimes bad, to the obvious good of providing transportation to literally millions of Americans and newly-arrived immigrants from far-off lands — opened up the vast lands west of the Mississippi River, all its mineral wealth, fertile farmland and new opportunities.

That change occurred in just a few short years after the American Civil War. If that war didn’t change the way Americans saw their nation, or lived their lives, then the crossing of America by the railroads did.

That change was massive — and abrupt.

For both good and bad, America’s Manifest Destiny had opened up the floodgates of history.

Today, we face much the same sea change in society as they did in the late 1860s.

Our change is not in terms of land and movement, its a monumental change in how we perceive everyday things, how we communicate and how we gain knowledge and interact.

Knowledge has always and will always be at the forefront of change — that is, if we take advantage of that knowledge.

The internet is just as large a sea change for society as was the Transcontinental Railroad.

It has opened up a vast array of opportunity as to not be able to be fully gauged.

In 1980, I had to search through books for knowledge, gaining at a slow pace, writing on a typewriter.

Today, I have instant unlimited access to knowledge at my laptop computer keyboard, and I’m tethered to the rest of society by a smartphone, a mini-computer as powerful as any steam engine that first crossed this nation on the rails.

Change today happens in nanoseconds, not in years, decades or centuries as before.

Without change, we still would be standing before a wide river, asking the question, “how do we get across?”

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Christy is news editor in charge of the layout desk and a columnist for the Enid News & Eagle.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for David? Send an email to davidc@enidnews.com.

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3rd-generation journalist, Univ. of Oklahoma School of Journalism 1968-1972, OU Sports Information Office, sports editor Sherman (Texas) Democrat, editor weekly Waukomis Hornet, news editor Enid News & Eagle. Retired 27-year volunteer firefighter and EMT.