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Life Arts    H2'ed 5/27/09

We Americans of the Fifties' Final Year---Transition to the future

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Message Elmer Brunsman
This is the fiftieth anniversary of the high school classes of 1959.

We are the transition generation linking the U.S.--culture, politics, technology, communications, religion, social justice--as it was to what it has become. What a remarkable timein history we have lived! We are a lucky generation, the class of 1959.We didn't realize or appreciate it at the time. Without the limitations of our fore bearers nor the coming challenges for our descendants, the open horizons of our own making were before us. What more apt metaphore for us than a generation that was earth bound in our teens and entered outer space and landed on the moon in our twenties!

We graduated out of the last year of the 1950's into the new era inaugurated by the sixties. We were the WWII babies, ahead of the baby boomers. Our spirits soared with our generation's music--rock and roll. We left for college in greater numbers than those before us. We were tested by either induction into, enlisting or resisting a war that helped define our generation.We came of age with the events and experiences of the happy days of the fiftieson to the cultural confrontations of the sixties and beyond.

We who enjoy the ritual of the morning newspaper and remember when there was also an afternoon one, not fifteen minute news updates on a toy we carry in our pockets. We who were the first television generation but not raised on watching it. We for whom the family car became cars of our own. We who may have cooked on a wood burning stove on the farm now "nuke" dinner (and damage it nutritionally). We've seen main street overwhelmed by malls and Walmart. We've devolved from the then expression of "drunken sailors"--tattooing--now on middle class torsos. Spoken English, beyond the use of double negatives, has degenerated to "I was like" in every sentence,"basically," "kinda-sorta." "Literally!" There's been an overall decline in education since 1959. Yet, research that then took days in a library, now arrives in a millisecond on our personal computers.

The pill arrived in our early twenties to spawn the Sexual Revolution. From sex being an occult activity, and teen pregnancy a frowned upon rarity, we went to the trivialization of sex on prime time sitcoms and today's unmarried teen mothers. From rudimentary birth control to routine birth control, yet still proscribed by the Church. From abortion as a forbidden criminalized back alley business to a common practice viewed as a right in the first trimester, but criminal by others, and condemned by the Church. From women having babies they didn't want, to aborting fetuses they don't want. There came the changed perception of homosexuality. On the health front AIDS and herpes complicated things further. Sex, it's practice, purposes and consequences lured and bedeviled our generation.

We inherited and bequeath a great country with enormous accomplishments we participated in through the use of immense resources, our Constitution, the concept of individualism and the mythology of American Exceptionalism. We are patriotic and proud of U.S.wealth, power and individual benefits. Yet we're oblivious to the effects of corporate food (feeds a nation yet adds new illnesses, ADHD, obesity), medical (miraculous advances yet addresses symptoms not causes), pharmaceutical ("side"effects), insurance (controls health care), litigious, prison (far more people incarcerated than any other country), and military--national security--state that consumes 25% of the world's energy while we are less than 5% of the world's population, with a military budget larger than all other countries combined, an estimated 1,000 overt and covert military bases in other countries, despite 1950's President General Eisenhower's warning to us about the military-industrial complex. Conservatism, influential before, now with the fr right wing, dominates opinion media.

We lived on a relatively healthy planet to create one with looming environmental crises. The Cold War was our world environment. The Soviets, destined to fail anyhow, surrendered when the game of nuclear chicken overwhelmed them.We've thus far survived the threat of nuclear annihilation we helped create now to fear destruction at the hands of terrorism, itself arguably a reaction to the world capitalist and military hegemony we variously supported, ignored or protested. Obviously we face forces with independent purposes; but not facing our part in our enemy's motivations and our problems, we don't solve them. Although over our heads then, wisdom had come in the 1950's "Pogo" comic strip: "We have met the enemy and he isus."

We were the generation with the most opportunity to make the most of our lives,to be whatever we chose, from career choice to even religious choices. Our women are corporation presidents while their fore bearers were limited to secretarial positions. We were not encumbered with our parents' Depression culture nor our children's growing economic crisis. We lived on credit where our parents paid cash or went without. However, the national debt is historic. Our country's disparity between the very rich and poor rivals any in history. In metrics of well being in recent years we've fallen to 15th among nations.

We are young enough to have led the computer revolution, and communicate by email, while the generation ahead of us is largely unable to grasp computerized communication, and the generations behind us snicker at "snail mail"--we are among the last pen-on-stationery letter writers. Letters that took five days to arrive now take five seconds. And we didn't walk around with phones in our pockets, some of us didn't even have one in our school building. We progressed to email but may stop short of Facebook and twittering!

Highlighting it all--emerging from segregated towns that confined "Negroes" to specific ghetto streets--we participated in electing a biracial president. The generation preceding us saw still more change and the succeeding will face more consequences while no generation has been more fortunate than us.The last class of the fifties reaches an horizon, and looks forward.

CELEBRATE 1959- 2009!

Elmer Brunsman has published in articles on cancer and terrorism, and Fox News attacks against Barack Obama. He has been a radio talk show host, college and high school teacher.
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Elmer Brunsman's credentials include: early Peace Corp Volunteer, Ph.D. studies in education, public affairs radio producer, media consultant, college professor, history teacher and alternative medicine researcher.
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