We oldsters born in the 1930s and ‘40s lived through the Second World War. We recall being patriotic, buying war bonds and stamps, saving tin cans, aluminum foil, string, growing “victory gardens,” and watching our parents deal with rationing by using blue and red government-issued tokens to buy meat, sugar, butter, gasoline and other common goods. We were all sacrificing to support our overseas troops. It probably was our last justifiable war.
Thereafter the Korean War and Viet Nam War were fought to “Save the world from communism” and prevent “the domino effect” according to the politicians at that time (the theory that if one of these countries toppled into communist rule, others would follow). It didn’t happen. (Viet Nam now welcomes us as tourists.)
China is competing with capitalism throughout the world. We didn’t realize then that communism was doomed. (One economist concluded: The lazy and corrupt brought down communism, and the greedy and corrupt will bring down capitalism if we allow it to happen.)
North Korea (now called the Hermit Kingdom with weird haircuts) is the only true communistic country left on the planet.
We then got mixed up in Mideast wars with Desert Storm, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and now Syria. The Muslim factions (Sunni and Shiite) hate each other and they certainly don’t like us either. (We forget that Catholics and Protestants fought each other for centuries.)
My generation has now put us $19.9 trillion in debt and we’ve charged it to our grandchildren. (A child born today enters the world owing $58,000.) Every adult American taxpayer or family now “owes” over $152,000 toward our national debt.
We sent men to the moon, and 50 years ago we built the greatest public works project in history: the Interstate highway system. It saved thousands of lives by eliminating head-on collisions and dangerous intersections. However, we’ve failed to maintain it, or the rest of the nation’s highways, with 65,000 bridges in need of repair.
We built the largest prison system in the world, and then discovered it made most criminals worse rather than better.
We now argue whether there is man-made global warming or not. There are those who confidently claim — against scientific consensus — we are in a normal weather cycle; we’ve lived through these cycles before. If they are right, fine, we’ll wait it out. But if they’re wrong, we are once again destroying the planet our descendants will inherit.
We’ve polluted our planet with lead gasoline and lead water pipes, damaged our atmosphere with man-made ozone-depleting chemicals, and have created two floating garbage patches out in the Pacific Ocean; one is estimated to be as large as the state of Texas. We’ve polluted our air, lakes and rivers; depleted or polluted our aquifers under the Midwestern states and California where we grow crops. We’ve failed to build an electricity-delivering grid to transfer energy from wind and solar sources to where it is needed.
Congress keeps spending millions on tanks and airplanes that the military doesn’t need or want.
The U.S. spends more money on defense than the next seven countries combined (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain, India and Germany). And we keep borrowing more money to maintain it. However, we’ve been very vocal about not raising or creating any new taxes as we watch our infrastructures deteriorate. Our excuse: Politicians will just waste the money — and that’s probably true.
Our polarized members of Congress, once elected, immediately begin to campaign for re-election so they can retire wealthy; certainly not the vision of our Founders.
And while we oldsters sat back and watched, we financially prospered … that is, those of us who are male, old, retired, white and college-educated. The financial world has been extremely good to us. We enjoy nice pensions, stock portfolios, Medicare and Social Security, yet have done nothing to fix the problem of the soon to be exhausted trust funds.
College tuition has increased beyond reach; so we created easy to obtain government-backed college loans, a huge burden on graduates that takes years to pay off.
A lot of us old folk proudly proclaim we are “self-made.” We left home at 18 and paid for our own education (it was doable then) and boast that we worked hard for what we received. We ignore the fact that we didn’t pay for or build our grade schools, high schools or the college campuses we attended, or the roads and bridges to get us there — all this was done by the generations who came before.
Who’s to blame? Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and those 97 million eligible voters who don’t bother to vote: We all have let it happen on our watch.