The “Post-War.” 1945-2022
John M. Lane
The first five essays of the “Post-War” are excerpted from my unpublished manuscript, War and Society. For a variety of reasons, there will not be a sixth. As I was writing the final two chapters of the manuscript, I realized that the further I went from 1945, the closer I got to the raw nerves of the current “culture war.” The section on 2008-2022 was completed; however, in the current climate, I felt it was wiser to “self-censor.”It will be in the book, if it is published. It will not be in this essay. Cowardly, probably. It has become dangerous to teach history, especially American History: (“The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”). I currently teach OLLI classes; however, I will not enter another k-12 classroom.
In the interest of full disclosure, politically, I am FDR Democrat. I hope this is not too disappointing to “all in” Progressives and “true believer” Republicans. My interest in politics has always been policy and results. Not “culture war,” destroying or “owning” your political opponents. If it works, do it; if it does not, get rid of it. FDR knew that and practiced it. FDR selected then General Eisenhower to command “Operation Overlord” and the Northwest Europe Campaign of 1944-45. Both Secretary of War Stimson and Secretary of the Navy Knox were Republicans in his cabinet. It was a different time. FDR was the “architect of victory” in the Second World War, much more than Winston Churchill ever was. Although he did not live to see it, his ideas and vision laid the foundation for the institutions that the United States used to dominate world politics, security, and the economy, until the dismantling of the “American Century,” which began in earnest in 2017.
FDR has been accused of being a “communist/socialist” for over eighty years. His policies (The “New Deal”) saved capitalism from itself and laid the foundation for American history’s most significant period of general prosperity (1947 to 1977). It should be evident that neither unregulated laissez-faire capitalism nor state-ownership of the means of production, Communism, works.Example: The Civil Aeronautics Board, created in the 1930s, closely regulated American passenger airlines. The CAB was eliminated in 1978 to create more competition and eliminate “burdensome government oversight.” I am old enough to have experienced flying before 1979. It is nothing like the ordeal of 21st-century travel. The second example: is the 1999 “rollback” of Glass-Steagall banking regulations and the elimination of more “burdensome government oversight.” Re-read Part V. to see how that turned out. As for Communism, in 2022, think China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba (the last three are definitely workers’ paradises), then re-read Part IV.
I also have respect and admiration for Dwight Eisenhower.As president, Eisenhower pushed through a hesitant Congress (it had to be “sold” as a defense project) the largest, most successful infrastructure project in American History: The Interstate Highway System. In the 21st century, such an effort is needed again. As in the 1950s, the United States needs to modernize its transportation system. The technology exists, but the will does not. Nothing will happen. (“Turf wars” over payment and location options to replace one of the most important bridges in the United States, over the Ohio River, continues in Ohio and Kentucky. In the wealthiest country in the world, funding exists.
Politics as “Performance art” gains attention, however.) In the mid-1950s, vaccines (heaven forbid!) were developed to conquer the scourge of polio. Eisenhower’s health secretary was against the free distribution of the vaccines. Eisenhower overruled him and insisted that every child in the United States receive free polio vaccinations. (Certainly, another example of “godless Socialism”). Polio in the United States was eliminated. A public health issue united the country in a joint effort.
If I taught you, you should remember the 1918-19 global flu pandemic lesson. If you recall, I clearly stated that we were overdue for another global pandemic. It happened: COVID. Unlike the polio vaccine response, this time, a public health crisis was turned into a “us vs. them” political/cultural fight. As of this writing, the death toll in the United States is over one million. It is much easier and more politically lucrative for the next election cycle (the thought process of most politicians at every level) to fight the “culture war” than to create policies that work for ordinary people, the country, and the world.
Are the “wheels falling off”? It seems like it. The “Right” blames the 1960s; the “Left” blames the 1980s. Decline and respect for the institutions of government began with Vietnam and Watergate. It is now at an all-time low. Expertise is dismissed as “elite” propaganda (Both the “Left” and the “Right” have separate definitions of “elite.” In this case, its means that you know what you’re doing and have the experience and credentials to prove it.). The act of driving is now a battle of the survival of the fittest. Rules of the road and traffic laws no longer apply. The United States, with a population of 330 million, has more guns in circulation than people. The list of issues is too long. At the top is the worldwide climate crisis. It is not a liberal plot; it is real. Time is running out. Fast.
In foreign affairs, unless things change dramatically, the United States and China are headed toward a confrontation for direct dominance in the Western Pacific and indirect dominance worldwide, sometimes by mid-century. It will ultimately dwarf the impact of the current Russia-Ukraine War and will bring the entire world to its knees. There is still time for both countries to change course.
Leadership requires clarity, the ability to communicate, the ability to listen, and the ability to compromise. If democracy is working properly, neither side will get everything it wants. I have already written about the current situation in the “Democratic Republic” series and the essays “In the Balance,” “War, Peace, Authoritarianism, and Democracy,” “Parallel Universes,” and “The Race to Nowhere.”
The philosopher/historian Hannah Arendt escaped from Germany in the 1930s and settled in the United States. She passed away in 1975 and is one of the greatest political philosophers of the 20thcentury. Her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, was written in 1951 and updated four times. It is a “blueprint” as to how democracies die. It should be read and read closely. The book is speaking to us right now:
“…the new mass leaders whose careers reproduce the features of earlier mob leaders: failure in professional and social life, perversion, and disaster in private life. The fact that their lives prior to their political careers had been failures, naively held against them by the more respectable leaders of the old parties, was the strongest factor in their mass appeal.” (327)
“…the temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on the genuine delight with the former watched the latter destroy respectability.” (333)
“…The world at large, on the other side, usually gets its first glimpse of a totalitarian movement through its front organizations. The sympathizers who are to all appearances still innocuous fellow citizens in a non-totalitarian society can hardly be called fanatics; through them, the movements make their fantastic lies more generally acceptable and can spread their propaganda in milder, more respectable forms until the whole atmosphere is poisoned with totalitarian elements which are hardly recognizable as such but appear to be normal political reactions or opinion”. (367)
I am taking a break from the blog/writing, hopefully, to return at some point in the fall. Maybe I’ll even return to sports.
Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism New York: Mariner/Harcourt, 1951.
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