Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


What's the Matter with Kansas, Indeed?

From The Big Burn:

Senator Heyburn was taken aback. "Pinchot's charge is ridiculous," he said. "I won't need two-hundred words to answer it." He groused about efforts to portray the Forest Service as heroic, and then decided, after double volleys from G.P. and Roosevelt, to make a claim of greater absurdity. He blamed the rangers for the fire.

It was not that they didn't know what they were doing, or lacked funds, tools, men, or support services. The problem, Heyburn believed, was the very existence of the Forest Service as a force of preservation--enabling nature to run wild, as it were. This fire would never have happened had the Forest Service not tried to hold back the controlling forces of civilization, he said. The great national forests of the West needed loggers, miners, city builders, farmers, and ranchers to cut them down, thus preempting any big fire, because the fuel would be gone. In setting aside these vast public reserves, Heyburn implied, Roosevelt had all but torched the trees himself. . . .

Paired again on the road, Roosevelt and Pinchot grew stronger in daily battle with the enemies of conservation, coasting on a full tank of outrage after the fire, a righteous wind at their backs. The highlight of their tour was an address in Osawatomie, Kansas, ten days after the Big Burn. Pinchot wrote the speech, once again finding the words that fit the oratorical style of the man he worshiped. . . .

A massive crowd stretched to the horizon on the prairie. Roosevelt climbed atop a table in the midst of the audience, barely high enough for most people to see him. He launched into a declaration of "new nationalism," a creed that stressed people power over corporations, and conservation over hands-off capitalism. If there was ever any doubt that Roosevelt stood with the burgeoning insurgents in his party, he removed it on August 31. First he went after Taft, essentially labeling him a man who broke his pact with the voters, though he never named him. Then he called for "a graduated income tax on big fortunes," and an inheritance tax as well. He stood up for his Square Deal, urged passage of child labor laws to curb abuse of young children working in mines and factories, and said there should be government protection for workers knocked out of the job market because of physical disabilities. He urged further prosecution of the trusts, and regulation of the banks, insurance companies, and railroads. As for the big swath of land left over from America's western expansion--it was your land, he said.

"I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all the people, and not monopolized for the benefit of a few," he said. Here, in the midst of an hourlong speech, Roosevelt's voice rose, and he punctured the air with his fingers. Of "all the questions which can come before this nation," he thundered, "there is none which compares in importance with the central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us." Such a notion, he said, was still counterintuitive to many Americans--"another case in which I am accused of taking a revolutionary attitude." But he saw this cause as something vital to the United States' remaining a land of equals.

"Conservation is a great moral issue!"

In its dispatch from Osawatomie, the Associated Press wrote that the crowd's enthusiasm made it hard for Roosevelt to get through the speech. Standing near the makeshift stage, Pinchot was mesmerized--after a lonely year, here were the forester's words brought to rousing life by Teddy, every sentence a cannon blast at the enemy. "I've never seen a crowd that affected me as much as that one did," Pinchot wrote. Roosevelt's friend the writer William Allen White also witnessed the spectacle in Kansas; it took several decades for him to fully understand its ramifications. "It is hard to bring back today the sense of excitement, almost of tumult, that was in the air over this land in the summer and autumn of 1910," White wrote. "It was revolutionary."


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