Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's Not Going To Stop Till You Wise Up

That pithy line from Aimee Mann has always spoken to me of generational conflict, the way in which one generation hands to the next in almost ceremonial fashion its failures, burdens, unresolved traumas, addictions, superstitions, divisions, prejudices, and misunderstandings. It is a kind of inverse of education, a shrinking from responsibility, a failure of parenting. Such handings over can take place in small ways or large, in the intimacy of family life or on the overexposed surface of the world stage. Of all the painful rites of passage kept alive by human beings, surely the most grievous of them all is war. War is passed on like a curse from generation to generation, like a loathsome possession which clings to us despite our efforts to get rid of it. And it is part of the irony of war that it is so frequently propagated by those who fail to comprehend its uniquely awful burden, its plague-like symptoms, its sapping of human strength and possibility. These are the politicians with blood lust in their eyes, those who crave the trappings of credibility and moral purpose which accrue to public officials in a so-called "time of war." They seek nothing more than to enhance their own power by inflicting suffering and death on the innocent. Their appearance in positions of power marks the beginning of cultural and psychic decline, of a widespread failure of the ability to distinguish what is true and good from what is false and evil. This Memorial Day I am grieved by the thought that my brothers and sisters from the post-Vietnam generation, most of whom are younger than I am, are even as I write this being scarred by the psychic and physical wounds of war, inflicted upon them by a generation whose own moral failures continue to reap the most horrifying of consequences. It is the dates that mark the beginning and end of their truncated lives that startles me the most. These are children of the 1980's and 1990's, too young to remember the Reagan years, Iran-Contra, the Challenger explosion, Mikhail Gorbachev. They were raised on Bill and Hilary, on Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich and Monica Lewinksy's blue dress. Their graduation dates begin with "20." They arrived in this world barely two decades ago, and now they are already gone. Those that survive will live to bear the burden of their own damaged lives, to tell the story of the war they did not choose for themselves. I thought of this today while I was reading this article on the booming grave-stone industry in the Boston Globe. Read it and ponder what it means on this Memorial Day that these children are being sent to their deaths.

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