History 101 for Gen Xers

Chinni, Dante

History 101 for Gen Xers Lessons for the future from a past that the present generation doesn't know BY DANTE CHINNI AS GENERATIONS GO, MY OWN Generation X is a dour lot. We donít get...

...now theyíre obsessed with finding its root...
...The New York City school system was widely admired...
...For the Jets, itís been a painful 28 years since their last championship...
...After all, my beloved Red Wings are looking good in this year's playoffs...
...We fear we are the targets of evil Madison Avenue ad campaigns...
...Well, what about the institutions-the piiblic schools, the federal govemment...
...Burt: Of course...
...In fact, our sad state is such old news that the media are beyond chronicling our angst...
...This whole argument about higher taxes discouraging work is ridiculous...
...Can we have higher taxes to meet our public needs, or would that mean an end to economic growth...
...Dwight Eisenhower was a hero of World War IT...
...We donít get excited very easily...
...Even the big-city public schools that seem so terrible today were good as recently as the '50s...
...With this in mind, I went in search of a little perspective...
...In fact, the Post Office remained impressive through the 1950s...
...Then you have to think about NASA in the 1960s, when the organization took just eight years from the time it was given the assignment by Kennedy to put a man on the moon...
...History 101 for Gen Xers Lessons for the future from a past that the present generation doesn't know BY DANTE CHINNI AS GENERATIONS GO, MY OWN Generation X is a dour lot...
...DANTE CHINNI is a reporter-researcher for Newsweek...
...As for the rest of the government, why don't you read up on the CCC's (Civilian Conservation Corps) success in putting 600,000 young men to work during the depth of the Depression...
...Not only did they pay much higher taxes than they do today, they even did their share of military service...
...My opening question was clearly one theyíd been expecting...
...presidents who were widely admired and respected...
...Sure, government can work-and it did then...
...Ask anyone of my generation what our eraís defining moments have been and you will get different answers-Vietnamís conclusion, Nixonís resignation, the Iran hostage crisis, the Space Shuttle explosion-but the answers will almost always be negative...
...Speaking of gzilfs, what aboiit the separation between whites and blacks, and especial4 between Jews and blacks...
...John: Well, there are always a fair number of selfish rich folks, but more of the wel1-off used to be willing to do their part...
...Or how about the revitalization that the Tennessee Valley Authority brought to an entire region in the '30s and the OS...
...And that is Gen Xís problem...
...But even if we do Jigllre out how to make government work again, we're going to need nzoney...
...Have there been times that were better, when Americans felt less cynicism about their leaders and institutions...
...Even the greatest victories weíve witnessed, the fall of the Soviet Union and our victory in the Gulf War, are at best incomplete, with Saddam Hussein still in power and Russia on the verge of chaos...
...Born in the late 1960s and early O OS, our experience has been a lengthy national losing streak...
...Has it always been this bad...
...Then, of course, there was the post office, which was a miracle of efficiency throughout the '30s and '40s-delivering the mail mice a day to homes and three times a day to the office...
...As late as the 1970s, they kicked in at $200,000 instead of today's $600,000...
...Have there been U.S...
...Remember, it was a 99 percent white Congress that enacted the civil rights laws of the '60s...
...We need to understand that our nationís experience over the past three decades is not our nationís entire experience...
...Some believe itís because we might never see a dime of Social Security money...
...Practically everyone, even Democrats, liked Ikeand respected him...
...Armed with a six-pack (for bribery purposes) and a notebook, I convinced a few of my less historically challenged friends to fill me in on a little pre-1970s America...
...Unfortunately, Vietnam gave the rich a good excuse for avoiding servicewhich they've continued to do even though their excuse is long gone...
...With the last of the beer and chips gone, I decided it was time to go...
...Have they ever worked...
...Maybe you kids, instead of being so cynical, should study why it did...
...Have the afluent always been so unwilling to pitch in...
...Today, we don't even seem able to scrounge zpjiinds to fill the potholes or fix the toilets in our children's schools...
...The country had much higher income taxes than we do today during the periods of great economic growth in the 1940s, OS, and '60s...
...Dad and don't want to share with Uncle Sam...
...As for the federal government, keep in mind that the American military, which, admittedly, seemed such a disaster at Pearl Harbor, pulled itself together by June 1942, going on to win big at Midway, then continuing with a series of impressive triumphs in Europe and the Pacific that led to the Japanese and German surrenders in 1945...
...There's also the Office of Price Administration's success in holding inflation down to 3 percent from 1943 to 1946, when inflationary pressures were at their worst, and the revolution in transportation brought about by the Interstate Highway System during the 1950s...
...And disillusioning times make for disillusioned people...
...The Cubsí legendary World Series victory drought now stands at 89 years...
...Stuyvesant and Bronx Science were considered the equal of the best private schools...
...Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Kennedy were admired and respected by a clear majority of the American people...
...This, along with the flight of the affluent from the public schools and their proclivity for gated communities, has created a gulf in our society between the privileged and the rest of us...
...And the Cubs, who started the season 0-14...
...Hey-pass me some of those chips...
...We also had higher estate taxes...
...When 1 first moved to New York, I could put a 13-cent special delivery stamp on a letter to my girlfriend in Washington, mail it in the morning, and it would be in her hands by that evening...
...Those long lines of mourners waiting to pass by his bier in the Capitol Rotunda and those grief-stricken faces along the route of the funeral procession may give you some idea of the depth of feeling he inspired...
...Hey, there's always next year...
...Of course, this figure is about to be raised even higher, as affluent yuppies realize they are about to inherit from Mom and...
...FDR would not have been elected four times if he hadnít been revered by his countrymen...
...And of those three young men who were killed by the white mob in MississippiI assume you saw the movie Mississippi Burningone was black, but two were Jewish...
...Our generation sees them as the timeline itself...
...But while sarcastic self-awareness (our trademark) has its place, it will only take us so far...
...Stay with me...
...This isnít about sports...
...Burt: Race has always been a problem, but things were better in the '60s when many whites joined with blacks in the civil rights struggle...
...Older people, who have lived through both the trials of the Depression and World War 11, and the better times that followed, perceive the setbacks of the last 25 years as unfortunate moments on a long historical timeline...
...As for Kennedy, go back and watch the television replays of the weekend he was killed...
...The Red Wings, Detroitís hockey franchise, have not won a Stanley Cup in 42 years, the NHLk longest current dry spell...
...Even before the movement really got rolling, during the '30s and '40s blacks and Jews frequently pulled together to fight prejudice...
...Burt: What are they teaching you people in school...
...And we are not terribly * - optimistic about the future...
...Gus: I'll field this one...
...From 1940 to the mid-l960s, the Kennedys and the Elvises served right along with the poor and the middle-class...
...The Jets just hired a coach who knows how to win the big game...
...But the real reason, the seed of our moroseness, can be explained through the Detroit Red Wings-although the Chicago Cubs and the New York Jets are arguably just as useful...
...Others say itís because our spokesman, Douglas Coupland, has given us a bad rap...
...But I came away feeling a bit more hopeful...
...The names have been changed to protect the guilty...
...our society, our economy, and our government werenít always what they are today...
...In each case, itís not just that the team canít seem to win, itís that many of us canít even remember what it was like when the team was great...
...And during a lot of that time, we had lower unemployment than we do today...

Vol. 29 • June 1997 • No. 6


 
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