Thursday, July 8, 2010

Living Through History

By Alan Caruba

We live our lives one day at a time and, at best, understand them only in hindsight. The chief advantage of old age is the ability to look back and, hopefully, to draw some lessons from the history through which we have lived.

My chief regret is that so many among the generations coming up behind me have so little real knowledge of America’s or the world’s history, be it recent or long past. Indeed, history books in our nation’s classrooms have become a battleground between competing ideologies because those who determine what history is taught will shape what history is to come.

The destruction of our education system since the 1960s is not an accident. It has been deliberate.

I have lived through seven decades of history. Born in 1937 in the midst of the Great Depression, I have lived to see a comparable Depression.

Anyone who persists in calling our present economic crisis a Recession is whistling passed the graveyard. You cannot have as many unemployed people as we do today, owe as much as we do to foreign central banks, and continue to spend as senselessly as the federal government, and not call this a Depression.

The main difference, as I see it, is that while Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisors were sincerely, but ineptly, trying to turn the economy around, the Obama administration sees it as an opportunity to totally destroy the nation by bankrupting it, by refusing to seal off its southern border from an invasion of illegal aliens, by imposing a healthcare act that nationalized one sixth of the economy, and via other comparable abuses.

I have been thinking about the seven decades of my life because I have been reading about them in an excellent book, “American Dreams: The United States Since 1945” by H. W. Brands ($32.95, Penguin Press).

What struck me most forcefully and personally was the fact that I was so utterly clueless throughout much of my early years, despite having graduated from university, served in the U.S. Army, and been a working journalist until I approached my thirties. Even then, jobs with the New York Housing Finance Agency, followed by a stint with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, did not connect me with the events swirling around me.

It was not that I was unaware of events. My childhood coincided with the Cold War that had shaped national policy under Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. I graduated university the same year Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959 and I finished out my Army service waiting for the outcome the Cuban missile crisis, grateful that it passed like a quick storm. The only thing I knew with certainty was that Communism was evil.

My politics were not particularly nuanced. My parents were Democrats and liberals. I followed suit because I knew no better. To their credit, they both began to have doubts with the advent of the Vietnam War and the Great Society spending. They had, however, benefited from the tremendous prosperity that followed the end of WWII, owned their home, had happily purchased all the new appliances that enhanced everyone’s lives, and raised my older brother and me in comfort.

I, along with other Americans, had seen the nation put a man on the Moon, had seen the enormous productivity of our manufacturing sector and assumed it could not end. It not only could end, it began to end as globalization undermined domestic growth. America has increasingly become a service industry economy, one dependent on easy credit, and an ever-expanding federal government.

I was into my 40s by the 1980s and only beginning to connect the dots of the history happening in the nation and the world. By then I was enjoying a career in public relations that took me all over the nation and introduced me to a wide variety of people in business, industry, and agriculture. Until then I had not realized the enormous inhibiting effect the federal government had on the economy through its intensive, expanding regulatory powers.

The environmental movement had gained momentum by then and in time it would determine how much water a toilet could use, how many miles per gallon autos must provide, and the soon to be enforced edict that literally bans the incandescent light bulb! Significantly, the Greens have seen to it that more and more of the nation’s vast sources of energy were put off limits.

The era of Ronald Reagan transformed my thinking. I became a Republican. Others did too, but it was the Clinton years in the 1990s that confirmed my distaste for the Democrat Party. When the GOP regained control of Congress in 1994, Clinton was smart enough to adopt much of the legislation they proposed and take credit for it.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by the most transformative event since WWII. September 11, 2001 and the subsequent military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq flowed from that Islamic treachery. I suspect that history will judge George W. Bush less harshly than his peers. The financial crisis in 2008 plunged the nation into a downward economic spiral that brings us to today. The election of Barack Obama has only served to exacerbate it.

The Internet loosened the grip of the “mainstream” news media as Americans with access to information as no previous generation, discovered they had been betrayed for decades by the liberal “spin” the news included. The advent of talk radio was a revelation for many.

At a time when what is most needed is serious investigative journalism regarding a virtually fictitious President, Americans must depend heavily on Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to inform them of the damage being inflicted on the nation.

You cannot be, as I was, indifferent to who is in public office, intent only on your personal life as if some mysterious force will intervene to make things turn out right.

There is nothing mysterious about “the consent of the governed.”

There is nothing mysterious about the ability of Americans to put things on the right path again. The American Dream can be made to work if we elect the right people to represent us and begin to shrink the federal government. That is the lesson I have drawn from my years and one I hope to see reignited in the years to come.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


Ronbo said...

I'm a former social studies teacher (1987-1990) in private and public schools on the secondary level, I agree - You would not have believed some of the answers on the essay questions that I remember to this day:

"The London Underground was a resistance group in Great Britain during WW II."

"My family and me went to Memphis last summer and we didn't see any ancient Egyptian temples like you were talking about, but we did visit Graceland."

"George Washington was a famous man who chopped down cherry trees and did other famous things like putting his picture on dollar bills."

One sixteen year old boy was convinced the GERMANS bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 because he heard that in his favorite movie, "Animal House."

-A former teacher, Ronbo

Carolyn said...

Hi Mr. Caruba! It's been a while since I've visited, but I'm glad I could get back for this article.
Reading it, I couldn't help but be reminded about a conversation I had with my dad about 6 months ago. My husband had been still out of work then (is working part time at least now, thanking G*d!)
Anyway, My folks still live in Canada, and from them and my friends, things aren't all that rosey up there either. My dad was telling me that he remembered his folks and the worry they had during the depression (it effected people a lot up there too) and he said he never really understood it back then as he was a young kid. But he did see his folks worry a lot even though grampa had a job, things were very scarce.
I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was getting teary eyed, saying that he never imagined having to know the feeling they had now that he is retired. My dad worked at the same company all his life- started as a floor sweeper, then worked the presses on all shifts for years that I can recall, and then up to vice pres. He learned about investing from his dad, and did well. My folks were never "rich" although they did have for extras- but my dad worked his you know what off for all those years to give us kids a comfortable life growing up (and they NEVER spoiled us- made us learn the value of earning our own!)
Long story a little shorter, all his investing all his life paid off by retirement time, and he'd been still at it. They have lost a lot during the past couple of years, and it's been hard to watch them lose all they worked so hard on, and Iknow it's the same story for millions of others. I don't know how this will be for my generation in the near future- as of now, everything seems so grim and doesn't look to change, but it's seeing yours and my parents generation having to go through it all over agian- really hurts.
As for the lack of knowlege about our history, you are so right. The last few days, I have been reading and researching the founding fathers, the Declaration and Constitution and federalist papers- even William Blackstone (although I am having a hard time understanding it all)
But I am going to be doing a blog article on all of it once I get it together.
My son has noticed all my reading, and I've been teaching him a little bit as I go along. I don't know how much he can understand at 9, but I'm teaching him anyway and will keep at it.
Today he asked me what the cold war was, so he is paying attention to my telling him about Ronald Reagan! :-)
One more thing, and I am sorry for the length again. Some of the teenagers in my home school co op, have been noticing my quoting the founders on facebook the past couple of weeks, and they want to learn more. One boy in particular is showing a ton of interest- wants to know all about Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. He's read some of the founding documents too already and is waiting for my article. It gives me hope that there are some kids who are seeing what's going on and want to learn from the past so we can bring back what this present regime has been taking away.
Anyway, way too long again- I am sorry. God Bless you Mr. Caruba, and thank you!