Every time I hear someone say "FDR's New Deal moved us out of the Great Depression . . ." then followed by ". . . but it was WW II that really pulled us out" I cringe. There's no collective memory in America today of the Great Depression, and very little of WW II. That was the last great Holy War, with God on our side. Every war since WW II has been a mistake.
I was born 7 months 7 days before Pearl Harbor, growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression with parents who taught me to live frugally from their life experiences. I studied WW II from heroic black and white movies shown on Afternoon Matinee each weekday when I got home from school, on a new gadget called television.
My early years were spent learning about the World outside Shelby NC by listening to radio, reading National Geographic and Compton's Encyclopedia, and collecting postage stamps from defunct Colonial Empires around the Globe. It was a pleasant upbringing, as an observer of things I was curious to know.
What I learned about was in sharp contrast to the Ozzie 'n Harriet World where I lived for 18 years until I went off to continue studies at NC State College, not at all sure where my life was going, but knowing I'd not return "home" except to visit.
I assumed that college was the automatic extension of high school, not noticing it didn't happen for everyone. Especially true for kids who went to the "other" high school, and lived down in Smoky Hollow.
At State, I was in downtown Raleigh one day, when on Fed'vil Street I noticed some folks standing in a line in front of the Main US Post Office, and I asked a lady what this was. Ann said it was a protest against segregation. I thought about that -- wondering why this had not been settled a century before, by the bloodiest War fought in America -- then asked her to move over, and I stood there in line beside her for a while.
I sat for the first time in a classroom with black students at college. And brown students and yellow students and red students.
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How amazing it was as I crossed the ending cusp of segregation to discover that the World came to me at my college. Because of the large number of International students at State, the Colonial Store in Cameron Village carried a whole aisle of stuff I'd never seen nor imagined before. Couldn't read the strange languages on cans, had to go by pictures. And some of the packages smelled funny. Cameron Village was the first "shopping center" concept, built in 1948 by some guys who came back from WW II, never imagining what change in America they had unleashed.
I bought my first and only new car, a VW bug, originally designed by Hitler as the people's car to move Germans around at minimum cost to operate. Germany, Italy and Japan were our "friends" now, as we had helped rebuild their cities we had blown up, so their children would be able to "compete" with us.
Ann's daughter Cathy Sterling and I wound up organizing a march of 5000 students down Hillsborough Street to the State Capitol, where Governor Bob Scott had automatic weapons mounted in his office aimed out at the crowd, and the National Guard mobilized in the parking deck basement of the Legislature two blocks away. I organized Peace Marshals to monitor us.
Cathy organized the bus loads of students who arrived from Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest. Gentle Cathy had just been elected the first female Student Body President of a predominantly male University in our nation -- after having results of the first election, where she ran as a write-in candidate, thrown out and the election re-run. A photo of Cathy and Ann in mini-skirts handing out campaign literature I designed was published in newspapers around the World.
Cathy hadn't yet been inaugurated when 4 students were killed at Kent State in Ohio, protesting the War in Vietnam. Two more, at black Jackson State; but not too many white folks paid much attention to that. We organized an evening candlelight march across campus, and sang "We Shall Overcome" at the Bell Tower.
The outside World of "peace and flower power" was finally mowed down by the ever escalating "conflict" in Vietnam. Most of us were too young to have paid much attention to Korea, believing what we were told: that it was to keep Chinese Communists from marching into San Francisco some day. We were sold the same lies, told to us about why we "had to be" in Vietnam, to keep dominoes from falling. Easy to believe: it was more of those yellow people who attacked Pearl Harbor.
All the while, the Safety Net FDR put in place to protect Americans from economic chaos had kept on ticking like clockwork, paying down the debt of WW II. I was teaching in Architecture at Cornell when I heard my native state had elected Jesse Helms to the US Senate in 1972. I was shocked that "my" people had elected a racist, bigoted, homophobe to one of our highest offices.
More so, as Eastern NC tobacco farmers kept doing it again for 30 years. Jesse had been VP of a Raleigh TV station, and his 5-minute evening Editorials were the joke of the day, as he criticized how Lib-ruls were destroying our nation. Jesse's only elected office had been a term on the Raleigh City Council. Hardly any Bill he introduced every passed the Senate. His power was in being Senator NO, thrilling CONservatives as our nation's greatest obstructionist. Hatred was his most important product: of blacks, gays, modern art, and, oh yes, communism.
Wasn't too pleased either, when a TV advertising-shill for 20 Mule Team Borax was elected President in 1980. I'd forgotten I'd watched Ronnie in B-grade movies on Afternoon Matinee, like "Bedtime for Bonzo." My World was changing before my eyes, never to be the same again, and I couldn't figure out anything to do to help make it better.
I lived through the Cold War, an unresolved remnant of WW II, decades longer and more expensive than any hot war we'd fought. Fear of War became even more profitable for the military-industrial complex than a shooting war, and caused few protests against it,
I lived thru my Dad's next door neighbor in Shelby building a nuclear bomb shelter in his backyard. My Dad told me he declined to go in on it, when he learned his children would not be allowed inside if they were visiting when the sirens went off.
I lived thru the Cuban Missile Chris that raised fears of WW III. Kids today have no idea how close we actually came.
I dropped out for two decades, learning how to make and teach the art and science of fused glass. But I couldn't help but notice that a Cold War Economy kept driving up the national debt higher and higher.
I became political again, during the campaign that led to NeoCONs stealing Election 2000, frightened they might loose their streaming wealth if weapons really were hammered into plowshares.
Then came 9/11. "It's Pearl Harbor all over again!" was the rallying image, peddled to those who had no collective memory of Pearl Harbor. And so, chasing after Osama bin Laden we went. He was another one of those different colored people. The greatest military power on Earth was bombing every cave we could find, half way around the World in Afghanistan.
With the greatest of ease, the chase for bin Laden was converted to a race to kill his falsely-accused mentor, Saddam Hussein, who feared al Qaeda as much as we did. We finally got him, after blowing up most of Iraq. Then we started paying to build it back. We're still there, nearly 7 years later, and bin Laden is still free. And we are still living in our longest running War Economy, with no end in sight.
The War against Terrorism somehow got converted into a War for Oil Imperialism, the very thing we fought WW II to rid the World of forever. Iraq's natural resources became our "national interest", to keep fueling our gas-guzzling SUVs. Hardly anyone drove fuel efficient VWs anymore, having been a casualty of some kind of standards passed by Congress.
Deregulation -- the willful dismantling of FDR's Safety Net -- set in place by a B-movie actor, has plodded on for decades, the consequences of which went unnoticed, as unfettered greed escalated us closer and closer toward causing Meltdown of the entire Global Economy.
As Barons of Wall Street were rewarded with more money than anyone could imagine, we watched with indignation as US auto-makers flew to DC in private jets, wanting to be bailed out just like Wall Street. Few noticed that in no way could they be allowed to fail, because of their ability to build vehicles of War.
The military-industrial complex that WW II General Ike warned us about as he left his Presidency got firm control of America's destiny, sucking more wealth from ordinary Americans, always looking for the next War to keep them going.
Now, a new black President for Change sits in the White House. He faces the daunting task of rebuilding America, a wreckage handed to him by another actor predecessor, who read, but barely, any script handed to him by those who had amassed their fortunes by financing both sides of WW II.
The America I was born into is fading into history. Fortunately, lessons that must be learned for future generations have not. As the 21st Century began, all I could see ahead was more of the same. And then it only got worse, so much worse.
I've dreaded leaving this Earth in poorer shape than it was passed on to me.
But Crisis can mean Opportunity, to recognize and change things that won't work.
For the first time in a long time, there is a glowing glimmer of Hope.