The cicada has landed. Like something out of the Book of Exodus, the 17-year cicadas have finally made their reappearance in the Chicago area. The harmless critters, with their bulbous, red eyes and screeching sound, have crawled up from the tree roots where they have incubated since 1990 and have attempted a takeover of our pools, picnic areas, and backyards. So far, the outcome remains in doubt.
There is something primal in their presence amid the well-manicured western suburbs. People who drive smart-looking BMWs and Mercedes have resorted to throwing ugly nets over their trees and bushes to keep the cicadas at bay. Boys wearing swimsuits carry live ones by the fistful and make not a dent in their numbers.
They are here, they are unimpressed with our technological progress, and they’ll more than likely be back in 2024. What kind of era will they enter, like the Rip Van Winkles of the insect world that they are? If the past is any guide, it will be far different, and yet strangely familiar. Let’s take a look back at world history through the bulging eyes of the cicadas.
2007: The United States, responding to the threat of international terror and lawless states with access to weapons of mass destruction, has troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The unpopular administration of George W. Bush appears ready to hand the White House keys over to a Democratic successor.
1990: The U.S., adjusting to the sudden demise of the Soviet Union as the world’s lone superpower, will soon invade Iraq. George H.W. Bush will become immensely popular—before losing the 1992 election to a young upstart from Arkansas.
1973: The nation reels from Watergate, inflation, and a succession of really bad cars from Detroit.
1956: 96 U.S. Congressmen, upset over a Supreme Court decision desegregating the nation’s schools, sign a Southern Manifesto extolling segregation. “In God We Trust” becomes the national motto.
1939: Gandhi fasts to end British rule in India. Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse,” retires from baseball. Nazi Germany invades Poland.
1922: Amid the Roaring Twenties, America experiences the Teapot Dome scandal.
1905: Shockingly, Czarist Russia surrenders in the Russo-Japanese War.
1888: The “Great Blizzard of ‘88” kills 400 people on the Eastern Seaboard. Bad weather kills hundreds more in various sections of the country.
1871: Major League Baseball holds its first game. The Chicago Fire devastates a city (but allows for city planners to start fresh).
1854: The Crimean War begins. “The Grand Excursion,” amid much pomp, is held: Lucky travelers get to take a train from Chicago to Rock Island, Illinois; then they go up the Mississippi by steamboat to St. Paul, Minnesota. Also, the Republican Party holds its first convention.
1837: Martin Van Buren succeeds Andrew Jackson as president. Abolitionist newspaper editor Elijah Lovejoy is murdered by a pro-slavery mob. Samuel Morse invents the telegraph.
1820: The Missouri Compromise becomes law, satisfying almost no one over the question of slavery. The reported “first vision” of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith.
1803: In one of the most one-sided deals ever, the fledgling U.S. government purchases a vast tract from the French. Marbury v. Madison establishes the principle of judicial review. Four years later the British slave trade will be abolished through the exertions of William Wilberforce and other Christians.
1786: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro premieres in Vienna. George Washington elected as America’s first president three years later.
1769: Daniel Boone explores what will later become Kentucky. Charles III sends Spanish missionaries to California. The first steam engine is invented.
Issues of war, peace, race, scandal, and invention are ever new, and yet repeat themselves endlessly. Truly did a wise sage quip nearly three millennia ago: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Will we ever get things right? One thing is for sure: The cicadas will probably be around to find out.