There was never any glory in war. Even in those heady, Times Square celebration days at the sunset of World War Two, the happiness was in the peace; the enemy’s defeat was defined by those who fought and bled and survived. Victory is in the next morning’s waking.
Even so, between Hollywood and politicians, the fifth and sixth decades of the last century painted the Allies’ victory with a broad, hard brush of red, white and blue. By the time Baby Boomers came of age, we were brainwashed by the envied, impervious America we saw on Gunsmoke, Combat and The Patty Duke Show.
Some say that illusion was first exploded in an open Lincoln in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and in the very public way that television played the tragedy out, from Cronkite to John-John’s salute, that is true. JFK’s murder shook our faith in civility less than four months after Martin Luther King, Jr., announced his dream for a better America in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Dreams shatter loudly when they are crushed so soon after their declaration.
By the time the television networks started announcing numbers of our Vietnam dead on the news three years later, the disillusion of desperate red-white-and-blue raised Americans left a bobbing bloodstreak that over the course of the following four years ran from Berkeley to Washington, DC.
Johnson, and then Nixon, became the targets of a generation that had lost the sunshine of freedom’s just victory that their World War Two parents had earned for them as a birthright. We were lied to about Ton-kin. We were lied to about the numbers of dead and the progress of the war. We were lied to about the bombings in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. That our leaders would be so cavalier with our lives, our taxes, and the future of our nation enraged many, even igniting violence in cities and campuses around the country.
We had no leaders left in which we had faith, no glory left we could ever believe in again. We got Jimmy Carter elected to make up for abandoning Humphrey, but by then the blowback from the sixties made his success untenable.
So here we are, at least five military operations and three decades out from Vietnam, with an administration that is stuck in a twisted Disney version of Eisenhower-land. Between Beirut, Somalia and Iraq, we can no longer be the right and just Snow White. We have no innocence left. By basing the illusion of an empowered, balanced policy on a mercurial, mythical past, our government regretfully sends soldiers to fight and die for doomed, false causes. As John Kerry might say, how do you ask someone to be the last to die for a myth?
Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, is the tale of an administration that bought into their own mythology. They forgot which Kool-Aid they fixed for our consumption and began to drink it themselves.
Let’s say that the “Kool-Aid” is a toxic concoction, a story of how freedom and liberty are a flag-draped bubble we must hide inside of, for our own protection. It wants us to say that attacks on our politicians, however rhetorical, are attacks on our way of life. As the prez said last week, any anti-government rhetoric is feeding the propaganda of the “enemy.”
Now let’s call the true-brew “Cool-Aid.” It says that freedom and liberty are the pillars on which our nation stands. It is the immutable basis from which the greatness of America spreads. The more we allow our government to imprison us in their idea of freedom, the less liberty we will have.
If you are of my or my brothers’ generation, you must know by now that we will never be innocent again. It will never be the fifties again and it is too late to reclaim the lost opportunities of the sixties. But at the other end of lost innocence one can always find political maturity. More and more of us can, and are, stepping up to dump the Kool-Aid down the toilet. Like paying your own bills for the first time, it is the responsibility of the politically mature person to show they are grown up and do something, anything, that can legally and morally bring about the change that is needed. After all, you almost never stick with the partner with whom you first lost your innocence. You thank them for the experience, and then you grow. Buck the conditioning. We’ll never be innocent again.