Author's note: This is the first of what will (hopefully) be a series of postings that describe a conversation I am having with my teenage Grandson--some 40 years from now. As soothsaying is a tricky business, please grant me some latitude with my guesses as to how the textbooks will view the early 21st century.
Curious 3rd-generation Child: Grandpa, I'm so happy to be spending my spring break with you!
: Well, Timmy, I'm darn glad to have you here. I can't get enough of you and your siblings!
C3C: You know, we're studying the early 21st century in my American History class. My Dad said you might remember some of the issues of the time to provide me some background to what we've learned in class.
: Well, there are things I know. Or at least that I thought I know. . .or knew. . .or whatever. What exactly were you looking at?
C3C: We were just talking in class how awful the world must have been back then, with the war going on, and the economy so poor, and the world hating what America stood for. It must have really been tough to be an American then, huh?
: Well, I think there's some re-education to be done here. I'll leave it at this: I'd always have much rather been an American than anything else .
C3C: But the world hated us! Our stubbornness brought about the end of the United Nations! How could you think that that was a good development for civilization?
First of all, the U.N. brought about the end of the U.N. The corruption of that organization caused it to fall onto it's own sword. Secondly, the U.N. was not designed for the 21st century. It takes an organization willing to take action to be relevant in a world that is at war. The U.N. may have been a decent mechanism to prevent World War III--but it had no idea how to deal with the fluidity of an enemy to civilization that doesn't mass million-man armies on the Eastern Front, if you know what I'm saying. The bottom line: we--the United States--were at war, but the United Nations didn't recognize that fact.
C3C: Maybe the rest of the world saw it in the same eyes as the United Nations?
That's possible--but that doesn't mean we were wrong. The attacks of 9/11, despite whatever rhetoric was used in the immediate aftermath, were an attack on the United States and the United States alone. We had a responsibility to defend ourselves in the war that had started--pardon me, had been ongoing for several years, it just hadn't been brought to our shores before. The U.N. had a history of not seeing "wars" for what they were--I'm thinking about the tragedies in Rwanda, Kosovo, the Sudan and Israel--and an even more disgusting trend in the recent history of decrying those who sought to defend themselves. Waiting for the U.N. to get on board with the "reality" of the day would've taken too long and would've left us too vulnerable.
C3C: So you thought the war in Iraq was worthwhile?
Well-founded is a better description of what I thought before the war. The results made it worthwhile in the end.
C3C: But Grandpa, how could you support a war that was based on bad information--or at least at the time it was bad information?
What do you mean, "at the time"?
C3C: Well, even Bush apologized for the use of some provacative words in his speech rallying the country for war. I mean, without those words, he might not have made a compelling case to the people.
Well, as we know now, those words were in fact correct
C3C: But the apology for the statement made it look like a made-up story, regardless of what came out later.
I'll give you that. That apology even befuddled me. But despite those "questionable" words, I think Bush made a compelling argument in favor of the war. I don't think there's any question that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed an ongoing threat to the interests of the United States. And of course, evidence
that surfaced later even showed that he had planned to attack those interests.
C3C: You don't think North Korea was a threat too? I mean, how could you think Saddam posed a bigger threat than nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula?
Well, it's like this: In North Korea, you had the POTENTIAL for nuclear weapons in an area surrounded by countries that were all very much interested in keeping nuclear weapons out of there. In Iraq, you had the CERTAINTY
of illicit weapons, in the hands of an egomaniacal dictator that had flaunted the international community's effort to control his efforts to obtain greater weapons capabilities, in a geographical area where there was nobody that could oppose his will. We had time to work with Korea's neighbors to bring about a good solution there. We didn't, however, know how much time we had to remove the threat of Saddam.
C3C: Was the war about oil?
Yes, and no. Not in the way that the arguments were made back then. Listen, the whole world had an interest in stability throughout the Middle East--a large portion of the world economy's most important commodity came from there. But we did not go to war to control those oil fields for ourselves. I think that the actions to bring about an independent government in Iraq pretty much show the folly of that argument.
C3C: Speaking of the economy, our studies talked an awful lot about the "two Americas" that existed at that time. Grandpa, how could you have provided for your family during that hopeless time?
first of all, the economy was finally chugging along again. You have to remember, the attacks of 9/11 were tragic for many reasons, the foremost of which was the loss of life. But the attacks also had a profound effect on the economy--an economy that was already starting to show signs of a slowdown. In a little over 2 years after the attacks, the economic outlook of the country had started turning upwards for the first time, and every month it seemed more "indicators" were coming out that showed the recovery was in full swing. All that in two years--which was an AMAZING accomplishment, even though at the time it didn't get a lot of press. So don't believe that the economy was as "negative" as some might have painted it to be back then.
As for that "two Americas" line, I never bought into it. To me, it was a "victim's" ideology that gave the masses a reason to blame everybody else for their misfortunes. By making the poor a "victim" of economics, you by default made the rest of us the perpetrator of some crime. And I know for a fact that I was never oppressed, and I'd like to think that I never did any oppressing. At some point in time, a person has got to be reasonably responsible for his or her own lot in life.
C3C: What about education? We know that the public schooling back then was really poor.
Grandpa, how could you send your kids to public schools?
well, call me crazy, but I never relied on the schools to teach my children anything that they would need to know. Your father was reading before he walked into his kindergarten classroom; he was frequently instructed on the proper way to speak to others and the proper use of the language; and your Grandmother and I even taught him a little bit about religion, just to name a few of the topics we introduced to him in the confines of our house. In fact, I only looked to the schools to do two things: keep him physically and mentally safe for the several hours every day that he was on the school grounds; and give him a curriculum to throw his intellectual energy into. It was our--your Grandmother and me-- our responsibility to guide his efforts to meet the minimum level of understanding of topics covered in class. But by just looking to the schools for guidance rather than all the educational support neccessary to accomplish the job, we sparked at a young age your father's interest in learning for himself. And I think that that interest has served him well through time.
C3C: Who did you vote for in 2004.
C3C: Grandpa, after all the unrest he caused in his first term in office, how could you vote for him?
because I believed in him. It was an even clearer choice for me in '04 than it was the previous election. President Bush may have made some of the electorate raving mad, but most of his policies made sense to me. And even more than that: he was a "person" I could follow. I have always held the office of President in very high regard--this is the guy who represents my country to the rest of the world! After the personal shame I felt for the antics of the previous administration, having a moral and future-focused man leading the country was just about all I could ask for. He may not have been the slickest of political operatives, but I never doubted his intentions or his methodology. And he was a brave leader--the first one in years who actually understood how great this country was. And only by understanding the country's greatness could you lead it through the challenges it faced.
C3C: You didn't think those same things about Kerry?
Well, I don't think ANYbody could "believe in" candidate Kerry. His campaign tried to re-invent it's message--and it's candidate--more than a few times in the months leading up to the election. Listen, you can never plan on some of the things that will happen over the span of four years, which is why I need to know that my president has a "decision" compass that points in the right direction. I never knew what direction Kerry was headed, or what the overriding guidance was that led him that way.
C3C: What about Nader?
Your history books even cover him?