Swans 10th Anniversary
by Deck Deckert
(Swans - May 8, 2006) Anniversaries, like Swans 10th, make one reflective.
I was born during the Depression, was a child during World War II, and came to manhood in the aftermath. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Considering the state of the country today, the "best of times" prevails in my memories.
Oh, there was plenty of material for the "worst of times" scenario. The Depression and World War II don't fit anybody's idea of Paradise. We went straight from World War II to the Cold War, and several hot wars, starting with Korea. The misguided, misbegotten, cynical Cold War was savagely fought on all fronts, with McCarthyism for spice. Racism was more overt than it is today, and even officially sanctioned in most of the South. There were attempts to put women, who had made great gains during the war, when men were scarce, back into their place.
But yet, but yet...
There was still the sense that America was the "city upon a hill," in the immortal phrase of John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. At the end of World War II we were almost universally admired; a beacon of light for all the world.
There was a sense of optimism, a feeling that life was going to get better, always better, that was evident in the whole society.
There was an economic boom so flamboyant that even the poorest segments of society were seeing a chance to get ahead. The cliché, that a rising tide lifts all boats, was, for once, proving to be true. Veterans went to college on the GI Bill, helping fuel the boom. Wages climbed, unions were strong, and working people had a voice and a sense of dignity.
My first vote was for Ike for president. He ran against Adlai Stevenson and on reflection, I have always been ashamed of my vote. What can I say, I was young and naïve. But Dwight Eisenhower was a decent man and a relatively harmless president. His grin was infectious and helped boost everyone's spirits.
He was instrumental in ending the Korean War but avoided confronting the odious Senator McCarthy, and was reluctant to get involved in the push against segregation. But when the governor of Arkansas called out the National Guard and placed troops around Central High School in Little Rock to prevent black students entering, Ike moved decisively. He sent in the 101st Airborne and ordered the National Guard into federal service and protected the drive for integration.
His sense of decency was evident all during his presidency and reflected in many public statements, such as: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
Oh, how times have changed.
I started in the newspaper business at the end of the 1950s. There were thousands of independent newspapers and TV and radio stations. Newspapers and radio and TV newscasts gave serious coverage to subjects of interest and importance to the communities they served.
Newsrooms were open to public. Anyone could walk in off the street, climb to the editorial offices and ask to speak to an editor or a reporter. You could walk into public buildings, even courthouses, without hindrance. Try that today and armed guards will block your path, and often threaten your well being.
You could go to an airport and simply board an airplane. There were no metal detectors, no armed guards, no No-Fly lists.
When and how did it all go wrong?
The most important factor was the Cold War itself. It was a cynical maneuver by the ruling elite and the corporations who had come to power in World War II to retain and extend their control. The idea sold to the public that communism was going to take over the world if we didn't confront it was pure nonsense. The Soviet Union had been nearly destroyed during the war and was in no condition to take over the world, even if they had the desire.
Almost without exception, every new step in the Cold War was initiated by the U.S. -- first atomic bomb, first hydrogen bomb, first ICBM, first nuclear subs and their nuclear missiles, etc. The Soviet Union always played catch-up. Of course, no one could say this without being accused of being a communist dupe. And the media was part of the problem, not the solution.
The first hijacking of an airliner was an astounding event. The audacity of it was almost beyond imagining. But it was a boon to those who wanted to extend their control, and the airport security that we've become accustomed to was started in response. The fact is that the metal detectors and armed guards do nothing to protect the flying public, but that has never been truly examined. People were becoming accustomed to being herded like sheep and that was a good thing.
The "War on Drugs" was another step to getting people to accept control of our lives to a degree that would have bewildered our ancestors. The fact that the problems associated with drugs are almost entirely problems of the drug war itself is never examined. We have turned a health problem into a law enforcement problem leading to the imprisonment of an unconscionable number of people and the near destruction of the Bill of Rights.
But Bush's eternal "War on Terrorism" is the truly frightening next step on the road to an, initially, benign fascism. Under its rubric, President Bush has claimed the right to lie, to spy, to torture, to make people disappear, to take the country into war against countries that have never harmed us. He claims that he is the supreme authority, above the Constitution and international law. While presidents have always vetoed laws they disagreed with, Bush signs them, claims they don't apply to him, and ignores them.
The Cold War was followed by the War on Drugs, which was followed by the War on Terrorism, all part of the march from democracy to a form of totalitarianism.
But there is no outrage. The public is apathetic, the media indifferent, Congress impotent, Republicans blindly supportive, and the Democrats whimpering in bunkers. We have met the enemy and he is us.
It is the worst of times.
Is there hope? Perhaps not. But the Internet, if it remains free, is a powerful vehicle for magazines like Swans. And as long as Swans and other honest magazines, Web sites, blogs continue to fight, there is a chance.
We can't afford to stop.
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