Discussing Congressional politics over at Facebook I made the following comment.
The past is dead, and only exists on the pages of books. Chart a new course and new future.
I was questioned pointedly as to what I exactly mean in that statement; and rightfully so. Am I saying that that history gives us no lessons to learn from? Am I saying that we live in such unique times that all that’s come before is irrelevant? Not quite. I will use this blog to expand on my sentiment, and hopefully give some insight into what I consider the defining theme of the current Era.
We don’t live in the 20th Century any more. The themes we based our American Perspective on are geopolitically (and more) dead. There is no iron curtain, there is no soviet menace, there are no dominos to keep from falling. In the last decade or so we have not witnessed the end of history, what we have witnessed was the end of the 20th Century American paradigm.
America’s waffling in international affairs, our inability to articulate a strategy–especially grand strategy–comes not from lack of strategic ability, but from a lack of grand narrative. While it seems as if it were easy for us creating such a narrative in looking back, it was not an easy thing to clearly accept and define who we were (and who we should become) as a Nation from the start of the Cold War. Though we made the decisions, and we thus defined who we were going to be politically, socially, and on the world stage. Such decisions are made generationally and change with each subsequent generation.
My perspective differs greatly from those older than myself. I turned 18 in 2000, I will be 31 in a few weeks. Think about that for a minute. Much is said regarding the personality of Millennials, Generation Y, older Generation X, or whatever the nomenclature is for people around my age. But what is said is largely centered around the personality quirks of Americans 30 and younger. But, those quirks are based upon experience.
I’ve been in Europe for two years and three days. I’ve worked in NATO for this whole time. The impetus for NATO’s creation largely no longer exists, NATO has for the last few years been reinventing itself because of the loss of its impetus. But, beyond NATO all of the geopolitical realities of Europe are in flux. Additionally, the United States and our relationship to Europe is also undergoing change. While we were liberators in the 20th Century, the deeds done by the US are not a vibrant living memory any more. The monuments are here, the appreciation for what was done is still here. But, the men and women who did the liberation for the most part are not. As well, those who were liberated are not. The decisions made by US and European leaders are not being made in the Cold War paradigm either; decisions are not being made between people who were making decisions during the 20th Century.
Now, take this one step further–the average person. The average person not being either academically or personally steeped in the history of the Second World War or the Cold War, what do they think of the World in which we all live today? How do they self identify as a citizen of a nation? How do they understand the actions taken by other nations? Inherently, it will have to differ significantly from how those that lived through the Second World War and Cold war did (or do).
While I live in a World that results from theirs I cannot make decisions based upon what they did. I must inherently stand on my own and make decisions based on my own merit. This is the nucleus from which my generation of leaders will make decisions.
In all this, I am saying that for all intents and purposes, for those currently in power and for those who are coming to power: That history, which is arguably the greatest in all of America’s history, is not relevant in the sense that I cannot claim credit for it, nor should anyone give me that credit. My self and my nation are only as good as it’s current generation.
Perspective matters, as does how a people identify themselves and their nation. In the American experience I’ve noticed a predilection to point to our recent history as an exemplar of who we are. There is inherently nothing wrong with this, but there is some peril in doing so. The peril is in making decisions based on what once was. On living under the auspices of those no longer alive. A habitual form of ancestor worship in the worst sense.
America needs to come to terms that the 20th Century is over. The ways we did things then do not translate over very well into this 21st Century. Mark Twain talked about how history rhymes. And what we’re doing now is looking for that syllable that fits perfectly in relation to the previous stanza, and the whole World is too. Culturally, geopolitically, philosophically, and damn near everything is being defined for a new age. That, is the defining theme for today.
We can either be annoyed or frightened by this reality, or we can embrace it. But, by embracing it we have to let go of the past and not conflate what we do today with what was done in the past. What we do today defines what America is, not what our ancestors did. We’re only as good as we allow ourselves to be. The goodwill we earned as liberators and defenders of freedom has nearly run its course. It’s now up to the living to make new decisions predicated upon today’s realities that can either be as good or worse than our ancestors decisions.