When were the good old days?

By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

All the bad news and societal changes lately probably have a lot of people yearning for the good old days. When exactly were those?

If someone invented a time machine to transport you and me to other eras, imagine what we would see.

Let’s start our trip in the 1700s, as the nation was being founded on democratic ideals. Traveling to that time period, we might land in the middle of a slave auction where people were being sold as property. Picture the cries of sorrow we would witness as husbands and wives were separated and as children were yanked forever from their families. Around us, the buyers would not be troubled enough by the scene to stop what they were doing. Meanwhile, society continued to compromise its values to allow it to continue.

Maybe the time machine might then take us to 1838-39, when the Cherokees were forced by the government to march west from their native land across the Mississippi River, trudging through Arkansas along the way. Of the 15,000 who started the Trail of Tears, 4,000 died.

A couple of decades later came the Civil War, in which 620,000 men died, or about 2 percent of the population or the equivalent of 6 million today. At Gettysburg, 51,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded in one battle. The wholesale indifference to human life would be striking. We would watch troops line up across an open field from each other and then just start shooting, until someone gave the order to advance. According to the Civil War Trust, almost as many troops on both sides died while prisoners of their once and future countrymen as the number of Americans killed in the entire Vietnam War.

Our time machine might then take us to the Industrial Revolution, where in the latter 1800s and first part of the 1900s, children instead of going to school toiled unceasingly in terrible factories that employed them because they worked cheap and were easier than adults to control.

Along the way, the time machine might stop in Elaine, Arkansas, in 1919. An organizational meeting of a farmers’ union led to a race-based shootout and then days of bloodshed. Whites descended on Elaine, along with troops sent by the governor. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, “Although the exact number is unknown, estimates of the number of African Americans killed by whites range into the hundreds; five white people lost their lives.”

From there, the time machine might take us to the 1950s – seen by many as an idyllic era. But for many Americans, it wasn’t exactly Mayberry. Society was set up on a separate but unequal foundation, and African-Americans, including World War II veterans, were forced to live second-class lifestyles. Suddenly transported to that environment, you and I would be shocked at the injustices and inequalities suffered by people who, in many cases, are still alive today.

Would you really want to go back to that? Would you really want to go back to any of those earlier eras?

The point is not that things have always been terrible. It’s that every era has had its troubles and persecutions – this one no more and in many ways far fewer. Children today spend their days in schools (yes, imperfect ones) instead of working for pennies in squalid factories with little hope of lifelong advancement. Likewise, the United States remains an imperfect union, but progress has been made in creating a more just society for people of all races. Even the problems that seem so bad today are not as bad as they were recently. Violent crime dropped 16.2 percent from 2005 to 2014, the FBI says. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created 287,000 jobs in June, which is really good. The unemployment rate in Arkansas is the lowest it’s ever been at 3.8 percent. True, that’s partly because many frustrated workers have left the workforce. But still.

Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.” Pining for the past is pointless and ignores the past’s problems.

Anyway, no one has invented a time machine yet, so we can’t go back even if we wanted to. We can only learn from history, live in the moment, and try to make the future better.

6 thoughts on “When were the good old days?

  1. As I was reading your column, Steve, that verse from Ecclesiastes was welling up in my mind. And there it was toward the end. Excellent column.

    The good old days were in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve sinned. And to be hopeful, here’s another Bible verse from the other end of The Book:

    “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””
    Revelation 21:1-5 ESV

  2. And the stain that runs through all of those eras is slavery and its aftermath, even to this day. Thank you, Steve

  3. Excellent post, Mr. Brawner. Looking at the past through rose-colored glasses prevents us from learning from our mistakes.

  4. Good piece, Steve! It’s helpful to remember that frequently harking back to ‘the good ole days’ can often rub others the wrong way. The 50s and 60s in the US were hardly good days if you were a minority in certain parts of the US.

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