Can it get any worse than this? You read the newspaper, what do you think? Social divisions seemingly irreconcilable. Wars never ending. Political code words that defy any dictionary definition.
Connecting the dots can put modern times in historical perspective. A newspaper is a good place to start. Take July 8, 1937. It might be the only time the dateline ALCOA, Tenn., has appeared on the front page of the Madera Tribune — a central California newspaper founded in 1885, just two years after first publication of The Daily Times.
It was a newsy Page A1 that day for the Tribune, one that demonstrates even in this digital age, the concept of news hasn’t changed much over the years — not in print anyway.
“Midwest Heat Takes Heavy Toll,” headlined a story about 100-degree temperatures spreading death, suffering and drought across the Central and Eastern United States. A story datelined Tokyo was headlined “Bitter Fight Near Peiping Rages Hours.” It told of peace talks breaking down as Chinese troops “refused to disarm and were taking a hostile attitude” toward Japanese troops clashing near what today is Beijing.
“Enforce Order for Palestine” reported how Jewish orthodox elders chanted prayers of sorrow at the Wailing Wall while British authorities awaited the first outbreak of resentment against a royal commission report recommending partition of Palestine. “Neither Jews nor Arabs liked the report.” The writer got that right.
Then there was this precursor to world war: “Hope To Renew London Treaty.” Sources were reporting Britain would shortly conclude naval agreements with Germany and Russia, making those two nations subject to the 1936 London naval treaty signed by Britain, France and the United States to limit the size of ships and gun calibers as well as tonnage of new German and Russian cruisers.
The big story of the day, topping page one in heavy type: “Mammoth Search For Earhart.” Three scout planes that were searching for the missing aviator Amelia Earhart were being joined by the aircraft carrier Lexington out of San Diego. Sixty-six additional land planes, seaplanes and flying boats were speeding to enlarge the search area that could cover a section of the Pacific the size of Indiana in six hours.
The Alcoa connection in a California newspaper? Bumping against the big Earhart headline: “Call Guards Stop Battle Alcoa Plant.” The subhead: “Two Are Killed And Score Injured In Police And Picket Fighting.”
The story told of how national guardsmen had surrounded the Aluminum Company of America’s plant the previous night, July 7, to prevent further violence on the picket lines. Adjutant Gen. R.O. Smith, who commanded machine gun and infantry companies, met with an aide to Tennessee Gov. Gordon Browning and said, “We are not going to declare martial law here because we are getting too good cooperation from the union and from aluminum officials.”
Strikers and police had exchanged about 500 rounds before the riot outside the gates of the fabrication plant was halted. Each side blamed the other for initiating the gunfire. Two men died. Harrison Click, a striker, and ALCOA Plant Police Officer William J. Hunt.
To bring the story full circle, Hunt was among nine fallen law enforcement officers of Blount County who were honored May 15 at the Alcoa Police Department. Hunt — along with Lt. Glen Giles, who died of a heart attack July 2, 1987, after arresting a resistant suspect — were new to the list of the fallen. They had been accepted for inclusion on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.
Again, can it get any worse than this? Yesterday’s news tells us yes it can. As journalism today comes under attack around the world from those who would blind us from the truth, it is worth noting that today’s headline is tomorrow’s history. Let us learn from it. In uniform or out, we’re all in this together.