Golden days defeated by war, influenza

Oh, those golden days of long ago. How we wistfully hearken back to the simpler life, the easy, manageable, less-frenetic days of the 20th century. Men were men, marriage was an institution accepted by all, everyone went to church. There were real Americans here, and we were proud of American exceptionalism. Those were the days.

So let’s look at America 100 years ago:

In December 1917, chances are your 18-year-old son was getting ready to deploy to the killing fields of France. You had already seen the massive casualties and knew that it was a bloody awful mess. The draft had just passed this year, and four million troops were drafted in the two years of the war: 110,000 did not come home.

Eighty-five percent of males over the age of 14 were working. And we had just invented the timeclock, so we know that you were averaging 55 hours of work a week. The fatality rate was 30 times what it is today for workers. Long hours, no disability, dangerous jobs, low pay. I will note that two of my great grandfathers out of eight died on the job during this time.

Women, you could not yet vote. Seriously. You had no voice in government at all. You did start to see women come into the workforce for the first time as the men were drafted. Yea! Timeclock for you, too, for a fraction of the pay.

Your children were already at work in the factory. Their little hands were perfect for polishing the insides of artillery shells. They died in droves in factory accidents. Not to worry, though, for a full 6 percent graduated from high school!

Public health was awesome, too. We were just on the verge of the largest pandemic in human history: the 1918 Flu Pandemic. I learned about this doing genealogy research and discovering that every family lost someone in 1918 to the flu. And not just the old. Young people died in staggering numbers from North Dakota to Alabama. And the soldiers died in 1918 by the tens of thousands. If the war didn’t kill your son, the flu did.

We also learned to hate Germans. I mean really hate them. People changed their names kind of hate.

So please quit whining about how bad everything is today. Sure, we have some issues. We have some divisions. But the chances are that most of you reading this have a pretty decent job that will not literally cost you an arm tomorrow; you have insurance and a government safety net should disaster strike; and your kids can read and will probably end up with a safe, satisfying job.

You can vote, we don’t hate as many people as we used to and – even though we don’t always like what we see – we do have amazing transparency in our leaders and government.

Wake up, America. We have never had it so good. Now, go earn it.

Kurt Vetters, a longtime resident of Greenfield, is a U.S. Army veteran, author and local businessman. He can be reached at