Change: Can the next generation achieve it?
The big buzz word of the seemingly endless presidential race is: “change.” The younger generation has taken ownership of the concept of change as if those older than they are have no interest in change. Let me suggest that lots of people no longer within the age cohort known as “young” have a long history of trying to change the world to make it more peaceful, more prosperous and more equitable.
For example, the young Americans who died in World War I would have changed history so that Serbian nationalists had not assassinated Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914. (See: Barbara W. Tuchman’s The Guns of August.)
Those young Americans might also have wished that the monumental ego of President Woodrow Wilson did not compel him to tell visiting peace activists that American had to enter World War I so that he, Woodrow Wilson, could have a seat at the inevitable peace conference where Wilson would impose his vision of a new world order. Following the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the puritanical, President Woodrow Wilson, the atheist, French President, Georges Clemenceau, and the womanizing, British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, FUBARed (precise military term) the Treaty of Versailles. Instead of a “war to end all wars,” they gave the world a “peace to end all peace.” That is something that both young and old would have changed. (See: Richard M. Watt’s The Kings Depart.)
By December 7, 1941, the United States was, without question, the world’s leading maritime nation and, as such, the world’s guarantor of freedom of the seas – an obligation that exists to this very day. Those of us who, with trembling hearts, watched their fathers go off to World War II would have changed that -- if only we could.
If you wish the North Koreans had not invaded South Korea in 1950, hold up your hands. Hmmn. It looks unanimous; especially, among the war widows and fatherless children.
How many knew that the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations were covertly supplying U.S. Navy advisors to South Vietnamese sea commandos who were conducting raids along the coast of North Vietnam? In 1964, when North Vietnamese patrol boats chased the South Vietnamese raiders out into the Gulf of Tonkin, the North Vietnamese fired on the U.S.S. Maddox (DD-731) – a destroyer providing intelligence support to the South Vietnamese sea commandos. That incident gave President Johnson the pretext he needed to get Congress to authorize the Vietnam War.
To borrow from Lt. General Hal Moore’s fine book, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, we young soldiers were totally uninformed about what Kennedy and Johnson had been up in the coastal waters of North Vietnam. Sure, it can be argued that Vietnam was a proxy war between the U.S. and Red China or the Soviets. But our intelligence community could never figure out which. Meanwhile, we fought in a political environment where the residue of French colonialism made it virtually impossible for democracy to take root. Ironically, today, the South Vietnamese are some of Southeast Asia’s most ardent capitalists.
Many of us wish we had not been called upon to spend our youth opposing the advance of Soviet communism into Eastern Europe, into Asia and around the world. We wish we could have changed that. But the loved ones of those who died or were wounded wish it even more. And then, after that 40-year, Cold-War struggle ended, here comes a bunch of religious fanatics who say all non-Muslims must either convert to Islam or submit to a state of dhimmitude (slavery) or die.
Moderate Muslim leaders try to sooth our fears by claiming that only one-percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are radical jihadists. Excuse me, that’s still 16 million crazies. Thus, the peaceful change envisioned by the weary veterans of the Cold War has vanished. As Billy Crystal famously said in the movie, City Slickers, “This wasn’t in the brochure.”
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. He is also the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2008. William Hamilton.