In the quarter-century after World War II, the country established collective structures, not individual monuments, that channeled the aspirations of ordinary people: state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organizations.
That’s from a NY Times op-ed today by George Packer (author of one of my favorite Iraq War era books, The Assassins’ Gate). It was true then. But we all know it’s not true now.
Later in his piece (which is about individualism as reflected by a celebrity obsessed culture), he uses the phrase ‘the great leveling’. And that perfectly explains I think why that post-War era succeeded and did so on every level.
The shared experience of WWII touched everyone, whether at war or at home. At war, the mechanic served with the lawyer whose car he fixed, and the young kid with an 8th grade education spent lonely nights talking to college professors. Even more powerful in its effect on the later society was that they not only shared the experience but during it they were equals – all called to service by their country, wearing the same uniforms, fighting in the same battles with the same weapons. ‘GI Joe’ carried the same rifle as his lieutenant did.
They shared too, by rising to the challenge. And when it was done, they shared the tears and the pride.
It’s possible for societies to exhibit those values even without war. There are some here on our planet who manage it. But for us, that day is past.
We’ll never be those people again.
Now go have a nice day!