24 October 2008

What happened to the Post-War Dream?

The house was like many others on the block 61st block of Third Avenue in Minneapolis. It was older, built post-war, and had withstood the test of time, as the aged trees in the front yard and cracking paint in the windows could attest to.
Looking beneath the faded yellow siding, I could see cracks developing in the concrete foundation of the house, and it made me reflect that it was an anonymous representative of what I am considering to be the decline and fall of the American post-war dream. We’re not the first to go through it; England went through it during the 1980s, as evidenced by the 1983 Pink Floyd album “The Final Cut,” which even has a song on it called “The Post-War Dream.” Now, it seems to be our turn. It was a hell of a ride.
When the bombs stopped falling in 1945, America was the only participant who stood to come out ahead. The industrial centers of Europe, Russia and Asia were damaged or destroyed by the fighting, and the people in those countries were traumatized to varying degrees depending on the severity of the fighting. America, thanks to two ocean borders, was relatively lucky to have not been attacked directly (save for Pearl Harbor, U-boat attacks and the odd Japanese sub shell or paper balloon bomb on the West Coast. Nearly 400,000 Americans were killed in the fighting, which seems a relatively light total compared to those of Germany (7.2 million), Japan (2.7 million) and Russia (23 million). When the war ended, the Americans who served in uniform came home to work, to build, and to raise families. Our neighborhood, built in the 1950s, came so close after this that I imagine that the sweat from war veteran construction workers’ nightmares was barely dry on their sheets. The world, I imagine, seemed a far more optimistic place in the early 50s than it had been just 10 years before. Worldwide conflagrations can sometimes do that.
My wife and I were talking last night about an older woman she met who had traveled around the world, and filled a home with knick-knacks from every continent she had been to. I could not help but envy the time in which she came of age. The Great Depression lived up to its name, but I would like to think that the resulting post-war economic boom and higher standards of living would have been a fitting payoff. As my wife spoke about traveling when we were older and able, I doubted that anyone would afford to be able to travel across the country the way things are going, let alone across the world. I know people who can barely afford to fuel their cars, nevermind their desire the trot the globe.
The pessimist in me thinks we’ve reached the peak of the post-war dream. The harsh reality, put off for so long, is that the standards of living we’ve become accustomed to simply are unsustainable in the long term. I may have been born in a superpower, but I am pretty sure I’m not going to die in one. What I end up seeing in old age remains a unwritten, but I certainly hope it doesn’t turn out as bleakly as the "Mad Max"-meets-Great-Depression imagery that my imagination is capable of conjuring.
Goodbye, post-war dream; you were nice while you lasted.

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