Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Fort Robinson

Fort Robinson

I’ve never been able to understand why men indulge in fistfights. Seems to me at the conclusion you have bloody, damaged participants, and no one wins much of anything except a snippet of status. By extension I feel the same way about armed conflicts. Seems to me the people of both countries lose out and only the top dogs, be they generals or CEOs or presidents stand to gain. The rest of us are poorer, damaged, depressed, and older, but not wiser.
I've come to accept that aggression and violence must be part of the human condition. After all, look at stories and histories down the ages, right from the beginning, i.e., Cain slew Abel. Maybe we needed that brutal streak to guard or feed our families.
From this bias, I'd be unlikely to wax enthusiastic about a military facility, but here I am, touting Fort Robinson. Now a state park in Nebraska, it was an active post from 1874 (first as a camp, then with permanent buildings) until after WW II. These days, although many structures remain, together with a smattering of horses that remind visitors of the Fort’s equine prominence, it’s become a recreational area, perfect for families to run wild and those seeking a retreat from everyday busy, as well as a time capsule of Old West history.
As I peeked into the reproduced or renovated cabins and houses, saw where Chief Crazy Horse received his death blow from a bayonet in the back, imagined the thousands of dogs trained for military during WW II, and walked the paths of a German POW camp between now-vanished barracks, I was struck over and over by the similarities among all the people who’d lived here more than the hegemony* the US government exercised. The Indian women who managed to escape during the 1879 debacle with their children had much in common with the military wives who feared losing their husbands to violence and their children to illnesses. The German soldiers held to a routine almost identical to the Americans’.
Fort Robinson is the perfect place to ponder these questions. You can bed down in the old enlisted men’s quarters in simply furnished but immaculate rooms. Walks or rides or biking let you contemplate nature and just how tiny our struggles seem next to the wide Nebraska skies and variegated greens of grass, evergreens, and shrubs.
I wish I could have packed Fort Robinson’s time and space for musing to my everyday life.
* Hegemony: domination, preponderant influence, or authority over others.



There was a time, and it may still be upon us, when parents tried to breed out, condition, or reason away aggressiveness in children.  I remember refusing to buy my son a gun, erroneously thinking I was a pacifist, and by gum, he’d be one, too. Kind of a strange position for someone who married an Irish ex-Marine notorious for swinging fists in his youth.

So I should have been delighted when my 19-month-old grandson Asher turned out to be so non-aggressive he bordered on cowardly.  At library story hours, he backed away from babies, especially if they made noises.  Playgrounds presented numerous threats, with other kids elbowing to get to the slide ladder first or claiming the shovel and pail in the sandbox.  He perpetually refused to stand up for himself.  However, I was worried. 

I was surprised at my dismay, but as a person who shies away from any type of conflict, I know the disadvantages of timidity.  Assertiveness may not be essential for a toddler but is a major disadvantage in adult life.  “Nice guys finish last,” right?

Fortunately, I had no idea how to train him in the manly arts.  And nature seems to be taking care of the problem.  Last week at the library, now at nearly 24 months old Asher stepped up and refused to let a little girl snatch the stuffed animal he had his hands on.  “No, no, no,” he pronounced clearly.  And she backed away.  

Not egregious* behavior in his case, because it means my grandson isn’t fated to be bullied.  Through natural development, he’s learning to stand up for himself.  Oh, he still shrieks and runs at the sight of certain wind-up toys, and weird-looking masks he avoids like the plague.  Our floor fan is viewed with suspicion.  But he’s demonstrated a healthy dose of determination, combined with a sense of purpose, when most important. 

And by the way, my son did get his childhood wish for guns.  He just had to buy them with his own allowance. * egregious: extremely bad, outrageous, shocking