V-E Day Plus 75Roundup
tags: Cold War, baby boomers, World War 2, V-E Day
Andrew Bacevich is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His new book is The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory.
The 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender in May 1945 ought to prompt thoughtful reflection. For Americans, V-E Day, as it was then commonly called, marked the beginning of “our times.” The Covid-19 pandemic may signal that our times are now coming to an end.
Tom Engelhardt, editor and proprietor of TomDispatch, was born less than a year prior to V-E Day. I was born less than two years after its counterpart V-J Day, marking the surrender of Imperial Japan in August 1945.
Tom is a New Yorker, born and bred. I was born and raised in the Midwest.
Tom is Jewish, although non-observant. I am a mostly observant Catholic.
Tom is a progressive who as a young man protested against the Vietnam War. I am, so I persist in claiming, a conservative. As a young man, I served in Vietnam.
Yet let me suggest that these various differences matter less than the fact that we both came of age in the shadow of World War II -- or more specifically in a time when the specter of Nazi Germany haunted the American intellectual landscape. Over the years, that haunting would become the underlying rationale for the U.S. exercise of global power, with consequences that undermined the nation’s capacity to deal with the menace that it now faces.
Tom and I both belong to what came to be known as the Baby Boom generation (though including him means ever so slightly backing up the official generational start date). As a group, Boomers are generally associated with having had a pampered upbringing before embarking upon a rebellious youth (Tom more than I), and then as adults helping ourselves to more than our fair share of all that life, liberty, and happiness had on offer. Now, preparing to exit the stage, we Boomers are passing on to those who follow us a badly damaged planet and a nation increasingly divided, adrift, and quite literally sick. A Greatest Generation we are not.
How did all this happen? Let me suggest that, to unpack American history during the decades when we Baby Boomers sashayed across the world stage, you have to begin with World War II, or more specifically, with how that war ended and became enshrined in American memory.
Of course, we Boomers never experienced the war directly. Our parents did. Tom’s father and both of my parents served in World War II. Yet neither were we Boomers ever truly able to put that war behind us. For better or worse, members of our generation remain the children of V-E Day, when -- so we tell ourselves -- evil was finally vanquished and good prevailed.
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