As we stop and remember Veteran’s Day, we might do well to remember that November 11 was once “Armistice Day,” the day commemorating the signing of the “Armistice” which ended the “War to end all wars.”
Unfortunately, another global war, World War II, towered over that bit of history like a great obelisk. Even today, as dictator by dictator falls to the sword of freedom-crazed mobs to the virtual cheer of people everywhere, it seems the only point I am trying to make is that war doesn’t end, it only evolves into the metaphors that drive its bloodthirsty lust.
It wasn’t as if people in 1918 had been so full of bloodletting that the signing of the Armistice found that lust sated. It was only one year later that Wesley Everest, a labor organizer with the IWW, had been dragged by a mob and hung, not once, but three times. He was hung from a trestle just like in Zane Grey’s book “Desert of Wheat” published earlier that year. The book’s prescience is uncanny. Grey addressed Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, although not by name, and the dust bowl, some sort of great recession, among other things. Now we know these things DID happen and it is a wonder why such works are not more widely studied for their literary ability to “look ahead” and shine a headlight, as it were, into the future.
That night, November 11, 1919, the headlights had been shining on Everest’s lifeless body as it hung by the neck – even then stiffening with rigor mortis. Several of the locals had decided to use him for target practice – their hatred not yet sated.
LAW AND ORDER
The train brought National Guard soldiers from Olympia to “take charge of the situation.” By Eleven O’clock PM, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, order was restored. The mob had evolved into peaceful, but watchful citizens. The body was left there for several days, the local mortician refusing to be associated with “it.”
The event was the climax of labor unrest centering around Washington State, the Wobblies, local business people, the Bolsheviks, and Veterans returning from the War, some of whom were card-carrying members of the IWW.
Wesley Everest was one. He had been drafted to the Spruce Division, called “Sprucers.” He cut spruce, a light and strong wood vital in the airplane manufacturing effort underway during the War. Everest had certain beliefs and one of them was he never saluted the flag. So he only worked when it rained (since they couldn’t put out the flag). When he worked, he recruited more members to his cause, the cause of the ONE BIG UNION.
The IWW had been instrumental in promoting general strikes in Seattle. On one occasion of note, striking protesters staged a sit-in at a local park. the local business people were enraged and made the protesters “run a gauntlet.” This angered other IWW groups and in 1918, while the War raged overseas, hundreds of Wobblies rented a couple of ships and invaded Everett in response. They were repelled by the sheriff, who had heard of the invasion and deputized every man who could carry a gun he could find.
When I read reports of Occupy movement protesters, and their inevitable removal at the baton of Justice, I think of the Wobblies who most assuredly thought of themselves as in the right. Ultimately, the actions undertaken by the chaotic Wobblies continually set back the labor agenda and fueled the Red Scare.
I imagine that the Occupy movement may also suffer somewhat of a Public Relations backlash in that many people, who I know, supported the initial “Hey, government, stop bailing out wall street, banks, etc.” But now not so much. Hopefully we never see the intensity seen in 1919. Messages can get lost in translation. I think if people are mad about the bailouts, the time to speak up would have been years ago as they were being rolled out every six months.
But maybe that’s just the way the world rolls, with death and war and bank bailouts and big takeovers and huge profits and long lines and people sitting in the parks like miniature Crowley’s armies.
Maybe Grey didn’t need a crystal ball to write Desert of Wheat. He could just look around him and see. Makes you think, what can you see around you?