Pearl Harbor Day

The Pearl Harbor anniversary passed a few days ago.  I remembered my father’s account of his walking downtown that Sunday morning in 1941 with the six-months-old Yours Truly in a stroller, when people began yelling and running.

Grandmother always pointed out that I and my cousins were not “war babies.”  We were born before Pearl Harbor and therefore not products of some perhaps ill-considered and hasty wartime liaison.

I spent most of the war with Grandmother and followed the news with her daily.  Some time late in the war, I must have been about four, I am told that I woke up every morning to ask whether I was yet big enough to go and kill Japs.  I was precocious even then.  Father and every one of the numerous uncles on both sides were somewhere at sea or overseas in the battle, and there was a large O.R.D. (Overseas Reserve Depot) adjacent to our property. The coloured officers visited and chewed the fat and drank RC Cola with Grandfather in his country store next door.

Of course I did not fully understand what the war meant, but it was an unavoidable presence.  Grandmother and I were alone in the house when the telegram came announcing that Uncle Paul had been killed moving with Patton to plug the Bulge.  I remember vividly her collapse.

I doubt if anyone under 60 even has a hint of what it was like in those days, or even in the Cold War days that followed, when we were taught to hide under our desks in case of an atomic bomb attack, which indeed we would not have been surprised by at any time.

Change is a constant in the life of men and nations, and old geezers going on about how it used to be are tedious.   But our change in America has been, it seems to me, abnormally large and fast, excessive to the point that most of the population is literally cut off from the past.  It may be argued that America has always been the land of change, but that is a half truth.  The other truth is that Americans have through most of their history, until recently, sought stability.  Pioneers moved west for opportunity—opportunity to recreate on new and richer land the communities from which they had come.

Some time in the late 90s, in trying to convey to college freshmen and sophomores some information and understanding about their country, I realised that a gulf had been passed with the result that most were quite unable to make any imaginative connection with their past, or indeed with any past.  The written word no longer conveyed anything to them, it could no longer evoke any real response—words were just abstractions to be memorised.  This was not ignorance—it was the absence of a capacity to grasp anything beyond a limited presentistic consciousness.   This is as true of the Bible and great literature as it is of history, I think.  We are a post-literate nation.  Of course, the students’ failures were not helped by endemic laziness.  No effort had ever been required of them, apparently.  By the time I retired, freshmen students were not capable of doing one third of the work that was normally expected when I began teaching in the early 1970s.

The young of today have grown up in unprecedented wealthy and security.   Not only have they never suffered any want, any postponement of wants, being sequestered in the suburbs they have never even seen any poverty.  No wonder they are gravely shocked and impatient of any situation or condition that does not meet the standards of a uniformly conformist, cushioned,  and prosperous world.  Their reality is virtual, fast-moving, colourful, and controllable. Young men no longer enjoy the freedom of risk and roaming and its accompanying scrapes, mental and physical, with the harsh reality and fragile contingency of human life.  Young women have never even been told of the benefits of chastity nor of the downside of its absence.

Much of this flows from the dislocations of the war, which removed millions of fathers from the home, sent women to work, accelerated divorce, uprooted families to new and remote regions.  The suburnanisation, the segregation of the growing affluent classes from unstructured reality that followed the war  was perhaps even worse.  The explosion of television and ever more sophisticated electronic devices have contributed to this.  I doubt of most of today’s college students can even imagine what life would be like without cellphones.

Of course, and perhaps worst of all, has been the deliberate destruction of education and its replacement by collectivist utilitarianism and conformity.  A college freshman can hardly be blamed for lack of information and energy if his experience of the previous twelve years has been regurgitating politically correct slogans.  Or perhaps the worst is the government’s ongoing campaign to replace the traditional American population with foreigners, mostly from the Third World.  This is destroying the possibility of community and of any renewed connection with the legacy of Western civilisation.

This goes a long way toward explaining the dreamlike, virtual-reality course and outcome of the recent Presidential election, so I am inclined to think.

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