Editorial: To forge a better future, we must know the past – Cap Times

      • Cap Times Editorial,

    November 7, 2018

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“History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.'”

— Eduardo Galeano


“These are difficult and demanding times. We are all drawn to the news of the moment, to election results and the governing that extends from them. It is easy to lose ourselves in the slurry of “updates” and “news alerts.”

We understand the impulse.

But the clearest view of now is often from the perspective of then.

Sometimes we have to look backward in order to fully understand the present and to begin to anticipate the future.

That is an essential premise of The Capital Times.

There are plenty of newspapers that were founded as commercial endeavors.

There are not so many newspapers that were founded in response to a historical moment — and that ground their sense of the present in recognition of the past. But that is our experience.

The Capital Times was started in 1917, as a reaction to the madness of World War I. When the newspapers of Wisconsin turned against Sen. Robert M. La Follette because of his opposition to the war, William T. Evjue quit the Wisconsin State Journal to start a daily newspaper that would defend La Follette and free speech in wartime. Because it stood for the truth in a time of lies, and because it took the side of others who did so, The Capital Times was attacked by the militarists and war profiteers of the 1910s, boycotted by the economic and political elites, and investigated by the agencies of official power.

This newspapers survived and, ultimately, thrived because Wisconsinites shared our skepticism about World War I, and about the forces that drew the United States into a war between the kings and kaisers of Europe. When that awful war finally finished, on Nov. 11, 1918, it was clear that The Capital Times would remain as a distinct journalistic voice in Wisconsin and the United States. We have always been skeptical about wars, and about the preparation for wars. We have always warned against the tendency of those in power to attack dissenters in wartime.

These values, which put us at the side of the La Follette progressives a century ago, have over the ensuing years aligned us with Gaylord Nelson and William Proxmire, with Robert Kastenmeier and Tammy Baldwin, with Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore, with George McGovern and Bernie Sanders, with all the leaders who have had the courage to question whether war is the answer.

It is this questioning that, we believe, is essential to the maintenance of an American experiment that was initiated by men like James Madison, who warned, “War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions, and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.”

It seems to us that exploring the history of past wars is the best way to avoid future wars. So we heartily embrace one of the most creative projects we have seen in many years in Madison: “The Greatest War: World War One, Wisconsin, and Why It Still Matters.” Ken Fitzsimmons, the frontman for one of Madison’s finest bands, The Kissers, serves as the artistic director for this remarkably ambitious project and we salute him for his creativity and his integrity. Building on his own passionate interest in World War I, Fitzsimmons and his many collaborators have produced a rock ‘n’ roll history show that examines the First World War with a special focus on how it has influenced Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum have donated archival materials, and Wisconsin musicians — The Kissers, Sean Michael Dargan, November Criminals, and The Viper and His Famous Orchestra — are contributing the songs for a one-night performance at 7 p.m. on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, at Madison’s newly renovated Barrymore Theatre.

This one night extravaganza will blend music, visuals and spoken word performance into a whole that tells the story of the First World War, from the sinking of the Lusitania to the end of the war — with The Kissers song, “Why Does It Have to Be Me?” that dramatizes the negotiation of the armistice that ended the conflict on that distant 11th day of the 11th month. This performance is deeply rooted in the Wisconsin experience of the Great War, with inspiration drawn from letters written by soldiers from Shawano and Stevens Point and a nurse who came of age on Few Street in Madison.

“No prior knowledge of World War I is needed to enjoy this concert,” explain the organizers. “You only need an appreciation for good music and thoughtful lyrics — along with a willingness to glimpse at the courage, despair, optimism, anger, hope, and sense of foreboding experienced back then by so many of our fellow human beings.”

After a long century, it is good to reflect. And to anticipate a future that will only be better if we understand enough about the mistakes of the past to avoid repeating them in the future.”

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