Thursday, November 17, 2005

The I-Generation

MEMORIES. I was struck yesterday by the venom of Tony Blankley's column about the latest sellout of the Worstest Generation:

It was 30 years ago when Congress last took the reigns of national war fighting. In August 1974, Richard Nixon had been scandalized and left office. The November 1974 election brought forth the "Watergate babies"; Congress filled with young anti-war Democrats. One of the first actions of the Watergate Congress was to vote to deny an appropriation of $800 million to pay for South Vietnamese military aid, including ammunition and spare parts. Historical records now reveal that five weeks after that vote, the North Vietnamese started planning their final offensive.

The morale of the South Vietnamese was broken by that symbolic congressional act of betrayal. The actual dollar cuts forced South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to abandon the Central Highland in March 1975, leading to the collapse of our ally and the onset of genocide and police-state brutalities that killed more Asians than all the thousand days of the war did.

Now the Watergate babies have grown old and age has not improved them. They plan to finish their careers as they started them in defeatism, betrayal and national dishonor. Oh, that America might see the last of these fish-eyed sacks of loathsome bile and infamy: unwholesome in their birth; repugnant and stench-forming in their decline.

Cool. It's rare that anyone sees through the illusory screen of idealism that conceals the ugliness of the time known as the Vietnam-Watergate era. When someone does penetrate the self-satisfied mythology of the second American Revolution, it's a shock, even to those of us who do remember its destructiveness. So much has been invested in sanitizing its sins and excesses, so successfully, that it's no wonder the beneficiaries of such a truly spectacular rewriting of history would feel confident of their ability to do it again on the fly, as they are doing now with their falsification of the run-up to the Iraq War.

What's interesting about the current moment in time is that we have two distinct rivers of nostalgia flowing through the terrain of American liife. One is an elaborate artifice, artfully and professionally crafted to flatter the egos of the most affluent and and powerful demographic in the population. The other is authentic -- not the less so because it is flagrantly imitative, crude, and nakedly unprincipled. It would seem that there should be -- out there somewhere -- a collision of some kind between the two, but that's not necessarily in the cards. Something special would have to happen, which I can describe but not confidently predict.

The strain of artificial nostalgia is largely, though not entirely, a product of Madison Avenue. Who would ever have thought that the rebel icons of sixties rock and roll would become the soundtrack of old folks' conspicuous consumption? Cadillac uses Led Zeppelin to attract bald, pot-bellied Baby Boomers to its 300-horsepower senior citizen cruisers. Telephone, computer, and mortgage companies use the Rolling Stones to sex up commodity products that have to be paid for by very un-jetset parents. Watching commercials anymore is like tuning in to a classic rock radio station -- a freeze-dried past thawed and re-fed to us in a form that won't crack our increasingly fragile teeth. "Remember when you were young and hip and alive? Let's all pretend we didn't lose our souls somewhere along the way..." And if we take off our glasses, we can still make believe that Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd and the Who aren't old old men acting out a sad masquerade of teenage drama. "Look at how much better they play than the twenty-something stars who are still borrowing their best licks."

But it's a dangerous game to look too long at the younger generation. They are versions of ourselves, after all. If the Baby Boomers were the Me-Generation, it's interesting that their offspring are the I-Generation ("X," "Y," and other nomenclatures notwithstanding), as dedicated as their parents to foregoing reading and other intellectually demanding chores in favor of a private musical universe -- courtesy of I-Pod -- in which the whole world is a mere visual montage accompanying their personal soundtracks.

Oddly for the sons and daughters of rebels, these kids aren't rebels. They aren't even creative. They are shadows of their parents, consumers, sheep. They still wear the uniform of youth designed almost half a century ago, differently configured in some respects and more expensive to be sure, but jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts with risque writing on the front are only that when all is said and done. Their affectations of hair and body art are so different from their parents as to be evidently a pure function of that difference and thus a mere inverted imitation, a failed attempt to shock those whose closets are overflowing with shameful skeletons that are past blinking at tattooed buttocks. They don't even wholly scorn their parents' music, but show up at the latest McCartney extravaganza in their BMW-built neo-Beetles, lacking only a McCarthy sticker to brand them as the conformist children of conformist cowards.

Cowards? Conformist cowards? This brings us to the second great strain of nostalgia, which has been generated through the anti-Bush anti-war movement that began with the 2000 election. Anyone who actually witnessed the public shenanigans of the anti-Vietnam War movement is lying if he doesn't acknowledge the deadening familiarity of every aspect of the leftist marches and demonstrations of the past few years. The signs are the same -- obscene and scatological puns accompanied by hysterically overwrought and underwhelming graphics. The people are the same -- over-privileged, underwashed smirking adolescents from 18 to 60 years of age. The politics are the same -- rigid, hateful Marxist paranoia tricked out as intellectual and moral superiority over those who are too uneducated to see treason as virtue, cowardice as idealism, and (now) anti-semitism as tolerance.

And for any kids out there who may have wondered what it was really like in the days when college students stopped a war and iconoclastic young journalists made a President resign, this is exactly what it was like -- except that then there was a draft, which meant that the streets were filled with a hundred times as many dirty self-centered sheep, who made exactly as much sense as the followers of Cindy Sheehan and Watergate was the long-awaited revenge for the fact that they had ever had to worry about the draft. The political dirty tricks of Richard Nixon were in this context beside the point. Their hatred of him was exactly like the hatred you see of Bush, a murderous tidal wave of pure emotion that needed only one small crack in the dike to fulfill the dream of annihilation.

For the I-Generation, all this could catalyze an important insight, even a point of departure. It probably won't, because you are your parents' children, and those are long odds to overcome. Nevertheless, the opportunity is there. It requires perceiving that the sixties and seventies radicals so slavishly imitated by the leftist firebrands of today don't occupy some zone of forever in the glamorous past. They are still here with us today. They eventually put down their signs and set out to make a nice living for themselves, which they are enjoying right now, with scarcely a thought about the hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians who were killed, imprisoned, and tortured so that they (or their boyfriends) wouldn't have to put on their country's uniform and give something back. They are driving BMWs and Jaguars, they watch Desperate Housewives and the Sopranos on TV, they are active members of the AARP, they are executives, congressmen, the minority leaders of the House and Senate, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the frontrunner for that party's next presidenial nomination. They still listen to the music of their youth. They still carry irrational hatreds, elaborate rationalizations for their self-centered schemes, and they are prepared to be every bit as unscrupulous as they were when they were smoking dope and screwing strangers in the Woodstock mud. They are the same fat, lazy brats they were then, and you will be just like them if you don't learn to recognize that the hopes and dreams of millions of nameless foreigners really can be worth the violent death of thousands of brave young Americans. They will never learn that because they are still eighteen themselves inside their dim sagging faces. But if you do learn it in spite of them, you may attain to a wisdom your parents can't even imagine. And you may save your souls to boot.

Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Blankley.

UPDATE. There are incredibly important exceptions to my indictment of the younger generation, best exemplified by those who have volunteered to protect our nation and to help realize the aspirations of other nations. Here is a post (h/t Hugh Hewitt) everyone should read all the way through; it is eloquent in its simplicity and its images speak volumes about those to whom the rest of us owe a tremendous debt. I have borrowed the photo below from that site. I hope Michael Yon will forgive the transgression, but I thought Instapunk readers might appreciate the reality that undergirds the book of Forgers.