Three totally unrelated musings

A couple of items this week, and a shout-out:

Not so long ago, I didn’t know much about soccer, and I didn’t care that I didn’t know.

That’s changed. When something’s part of your grandkids’ lives, your viewpoint is sharply altered.

This past week, Kathy and I drove nearly 700 miles over four days to watch four soccer games in three different towns. Norah, 4, played in Adel Saturday morning; Will, 9, played there that afternoon; Laura, a sophomore at Upper Iowa University, played against St. Ambrose University in Davenport on Sunday; and Katie, a sophomore at Gilbert High School, played Tuesday in Boone.

The trips reprised our road trips to the out-of-town baseball, football, basketball and track contests that involved their parents several years earlier. But there is a difference.

I knew the rules, strategy and fine points of those sports. I had played them.

But soccer? Not so much. I had never kicked a soccer ball until my grandchildren pulled me out to play with them in the yard. It’s been a sharp learning curve for me in the past few years.

Traditional American sports that involve a ball are arm-oriented. While kicking certainly plays a role in American football, passing is more frequent. The baseball and basketball, of course, are totally transferred from player to player by throwing; in basketball, kicking is even illegal. Tennis is an arm sport as well, as are hockey and lacrosse. And kicking is strictly forbidden in golf, another arm-oriented game.

Soccer is different. You’re penalized if your arm or hand touches the ball. It’s all about legs and feet.

So for folks like me who grew up trying to perfect our throwing and hitting skills, foot and leg “passing” does not seem natural.

But it certainly is that around the world, and it’s become so in the United States among younger residents. Immigration, globalization and media coverage have a lot to do with that.     

Soccer (called “football” in the rest of the world) has 250 million players in 200 different countries. In the U.S., even in more insular states like Iowa, it’s the sport of choice for millions of youngsters, particularly in urban and suburban communities.

Most of the schools in the Heart of Iowa Activities Conference, in which Greene County participates, now compete in soccer. A number of Greene County students play as members of Boone High School’s teams. It’s likely that in the not-so-distant future, soccer will be part of the Greene County competitive sports offerings.

As I learn more about the sport, I appreciate the skills required and the strategies as well.

I’m getting there.

Last Thursday, Kathy and I joined brother Tom and his wife Vikki on a trip to Kansas City, home of the impressive National World War I Museum. Thursday, April 6, was the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into World War I, and the four of us were Iowa’s official representatives to the commemorative observance of that event, held outdoors on the museum grounds.

The commemoration — it was officially billed as that, not as a celebration — was extremely well done. Much of it was solemn: 116,516 Americans died in the war, most of them from noncombat causes like the devastating Spanish flu that ravaged the world at that time.

There were also lighter moments, with music from the period performed by outstanding musicians. One of the songs, new to me, was “If He Can Fight Like He Can Love, Good Night Germany!”

Important speeches and documents from the years leading up to the war were read. The observance did not spare the unsavory aspects of American life during those years, including racism and sexism.

On our way home, the four of us debated what we thought were the primary themes of the observance. For me, the main message was that the war changed the world, and the United States, forever.

We entered the war as an isolationist nation with startlingly weak military capability. We left it as a world military power and an enormous economic engine that would henceforth take a central role on the international stage. And American society was sharply different after the war from what it had been.

The other lesson for me was how different war is today from what it was then.

World War I took place at a time when military defenses were superior to offensive weaponry and capability. For four years, it was fought primarily in trenches from the Swiss border north to the North Sea, with millions of men dying to move the front lines a few miles one way or the other.

Today’s wars often don’t even have front lines. Offensive power has the upper hand, with electronic and cyber attacks as real threats. Individual participants often never see the enemy they kill, sometimes launching their weapons from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

And for the United States, there’s no true enemy nation now. We’re fighting a terrorist organization from which we won’t be able to compel a traditional surrender. Our success in pivoting to that type of warfare is checkered at best.

The shout-out I noted at the top of this column is to colleague Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times, a twice-a-week newspaper with a circulation of 3,300. Art this week was named the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, beating out the Washington Post and the Houston Chronicle.

His paper has a payroll of nine people, most of whom are members of the Cullen family. The Times, like many Iowa papers, is definitely not a cash cow.

Art was awarded the Pulitzer for 10 editorials that demanded the release of the funding sources that fueled the defense of the drainage districts in Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties against the Des Moines Water Works civil suit over nitrogen in the Raccoon River that pollutes Des Moines’ water supply.

He was pretty unpopular among ag interests in his area, and probably still is.

But he maintained, then and now, that people deserve to know where money that public bodies receive comes from.

Not a bad idea. And Art Cullen would be a stupendous journalist in any venue, large or small.

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