Small World: Speak, teach memory
A few weeks back, The News published a photograph of the 1952 Bridgton High School graduating class. Unfortunately, there were no questions of the group designed to dredge up their memories. As one from about the same epoch, albeit some 800 miles south of Bridgton, l would like to offer some thoughts on the experiences of a significant generation of Americans.
The first thing we had in common was that we all lived through the Great Depression. There had been panics and ups and downs in the economy in decades past, but nothing as severe as the unemployment, business failures and general loss of confidence in America’s future as in the 1930s. I doubt that many, if any, families in Bridgton came through those years without a different perspective on their lives and those of their families. Under FDR’s leadership, a new theory took hold of many minds: The federal government will spend and save us. A government role in the economy was not new. Presidents Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln expanded it. But, not to the extent of FDR. Many people would not accept this extension of Washington’s power in our lives, but the majority did and Big Government became the foundation for later additions by Truman, Johnson, Nixon and most recently, Obama.
Unhappily, the stalled productivity of the American economy, its declining manufacturing base and the unwillingness of citizens to be taxed have led to a dangerous debt burden, which threatens the well-being of those the system it is designed to protect.
The second big memory and life-shaping event in the lives of the Class of ’52 was/is war. Pearl Harbor brought us all together. A massive, intense struggle against the hated Germans and Japanese made us united and willing to follow Washington’s lead as never before in our history. Just as the Depression created its myths, World War II left us with a determination never to have a Munich of appeasement or a Pearl Harbor of unawareness or to allow any hostile power to threaten our supremacy.
The Cold War started as soon as WWII ended. It continued as the armaments stacked up on either side and as we collected allies and fought those of our chief antagonists — the Russians and Chinese. From 1945 until the present day, our country has had few years when servicemen and women were not fighting on foreign soil somewhere. We found out later that the Russians were nowhere as great a threat as we had been taught, that some of our small enemies — Vietnam and Iraq, for example — had been better left alone. Even today as we struggle to end our involvement in Afghanistan, some argue we must be prepared to deal with a Chinese threat. Iran is depicted as a lethal menace to our security, a risible concept if rational analysis is applied rather than political posturing for electoral purposes.
The two basic thoughts I would endorse are the concepts that we can’t have it all without some sacrifice and that we ought to learn from history. Remember the disaster LBJ left behind after offering generous servings of butter together with an expensive war? George Bush did pretty much the same thing urging everyone to spend, cutting taxes and fighting two terribly expensive wars. Have either of our presidential candidates this year learned that simple lesson?
It is probably too late for us 1952ers to shake up our premises and think through our past and the future that awaits our grandchildren. Few of us can break out of established habits of thought without agony. But it’s worth the effort. At a minimum, we ought to encourage younger generations to give it a try. Clear thinking could mean the success or failure of this land of ours.
Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.