I first encountered the phrase “We have met the enemy, and he is us” at 14, when I was testing to get into an honors english class for the upcoming 9th grade. My grades certainly didn’t warrant my inclusion into the class; but I think my understanding of what this phrase might mean, earned me a spot. Today is the first time I’ve seen the “Pogo” where the phrase first appeared in this form. Like “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, the phrase isn’t wholly original. A similar quote is attributed to a U.S. general during the war of 1812.
My original take on this, in the late spring of 1974, undoubtedly rose from my childhood environment during the late 1960s. Though I was too young to be a participant during this time, I came to an age of reason as an observer; and an observer I have been ever since.
Though my original test answer has been lost over time, I don’t think it varied much from my take today: Each of us plays a small part in both the glory and the failing of all of us. The phrase is, of course, concerned with the latter. I believe I said something similar to “each of us can be our own worst enemy, when we fail to act.”
It is understandable that we can sometimes fail to act, or even to see; given that most of us necessarily worry first about ourselves, and those closest to us. Little time remains for truth-seeking, questioning our ingrained positions, and course correction. As the complexity, diversity, and breadth of our world seemingly continues to outpace our ability to get a mental grasp of it; the irony is that it is ever more important to somehow find the time and capacity to increase our understanding of our relative place within our time and our space.