Like a rainbow of wildfires, flowers blaze across the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
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China, on the other hand, was anything but new. Eldest and most populous of the world’s continuous civilizations, the Chinese had already amassed millennia of practice living together in close quarters without strife and sustaining their many millions in an economy that yielded much and damaged little.
Thoughtful Americans saw in this an admirable example and hoped, without contravening America’s founding principles, to build a country on a similar model. But they were outnumbered and overpowered by those who saw the land and its resources as infinite and self-repairing; to these, natural resources existed for a single purpose: to be extracted, none too gently or thoughtfully, but as rapidly and efficiently as possible, that the speculators might take a quick and imposing profit.
It was not long before the “beautiful country” was disfigured by a thousand points of unspeakable ugliness: snow-mantled peaks hewn from their shoulders to expose the coal beneath; virgin forests clearcut for timber, firewood and paper products; fruitful plains denuded of their variegated verdure and cloaked in millions of acres of monochromatic monoculture. Money was its god, and soon much of it resembled hell: Once-pure waters were now filth-ridden conduits for disease, tainted with chemicals and biological pathogens; the earth was torn and flayed, its viscera spread beneath a sullen sky; the very air was heavy, swollen with poison. The obscene lust for lucre had ravaged, had ravished, had raped the land; a desecrated country cried out until its pain echoed from the mountaintops and filled the skies.
“Purple mountain majesties” are all very well, but
there’s money in them hills!
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Wealth there was in plenty for some; sharp agonies alternated with dull misery for many more. Amid a land of plenty, not nearly so filled with people as were the old countries of Europe and Asia, a few achieved dazzling and unprecedented opulence; the rest struggled all the days of their lives for a share of the leavings: It was for this that a continent was defiled and a people all but destroyed.
A century and more later, we would hope to find that the new civilization had grown into itself, learned from the older, and come to an understanding among its peoples and with the ecology that sustained them. But it is not so: Rather, the elder learned from its younger sibling to make strife and plunder to overtake the latter in industrial development in the vain hope of bringing the luxury of the few to its many millions.
U.S. President Barack Obama (right) meets with European leaders to discuss the Copenhagen climate accords.
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So it is today that we bear witness to the unedifying spectacle of the central country and the beautiful country making covert and sinister alliance that both may continue to march unimpeded down the path to perdition. And when other older countries, those of a long-despoiled Europe lying between America and Asia, seek to make global accords toward the end of halting and reversing that march, the Mammon-debauched agents of desecration in quest of wealth reach behind their backs to shake hands and agree a separate accord: that both shall continue their march undeterred and undiverted until they shall have dragged the world to the ultimate and ineluctable destination of the defiler’s progress.