Neither Good nor Bad
[Note: I am playing fast and loose with history here. The details arenít important, it is the perceptions that I am speaking to.]
In college, I had a professor who was talking to the class about the Napoleonic Wars. He set the stage, telling us how Europe was transitioning into a modern society. For the first time in history, people were looking at the present and realizing that it was different from the past.
You know how sometimes someone will ask you how your day was and you say, "Same old, same old." This is how life was around the 1700s, give, or take a few hundred years. Point is that most men and women did what their mothers and fathers had done...and that is pretty much how life had been for generations innumerable.
The point here is that Europeans in the 1800s had a sense that they were permanently different from their ancestors and that maybe they would not have any more wars. Would not that be nice?
Then, of course, everything went to pot when Napoleon started marching around the continent. Not only were they disappointed that they were back at war but this war was bad. They had cannons, muskets, and things that made a complete mess out of some nice estates. Not to mention the raping and pillaging that the soldiers did along the way, which is pretty much what soldiers had always done.
So just when they thought they were finally pulling themselves out of the mud, they fell into raw sewage.
That was the essence of what my professor was communicating to us.
I raised my hand and said, "But you know, we did get Beethovenís 9th Symphony out of it." That pretty much got me a "globber" from everyone in the class, including the professor.
My point was while it may have been cruddy for those stuck in that mess; we are far from it now. In addition, we have since seen things like the Holocaust and such that makes the Napoleonic Wars look like a garden party.
It was the tragedy of those times that inspired Beethovenís 9th. His symphony will endure. When the Alps have worn down into gentle rolling hills, the air will still occasionally vibrate to the tune of Beethovenís 9th.
So, were the Napoleonic Wars bad? Is it appropriate to label something historical in that way? Certainly as we distance ourselves from it, we are more inclined to focus on the greatness that they produced, instead of the horror suffered.
What about today? How will people of the future view the events of now and the near future? I think of this often when I think of what might be in store for humanity if global warming turns into a worst-case scenario.
Perhaps in the generations to follow they will think of us today, the agents of global warming, as the unknowing saviors of the human race. Our actions, in the immediate future may be considered universally bad, yet may lead the next evolution of humanity into a true global society. Therefore, our distant children will be thankful that we blundered while giving birth to something they cherish.
Then again, maybe weíre all doomed. At any rate, I often think of Shakespeareís quote in Hamlet, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."