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Then and Now – 1945 and 2005

Tuesday, 16 August 2005 12:00 AM

Everything is different. Technology has created a world that was unimaginable to those of us who emerged from the second world war. The biggest difference between then and now, however, is not in the vast gap between a time of nascent technological growth and where we are today, but instead in terms of attitude.

Americans are simply different from the boys of 1945 in the ways we think and act. We have undergone a wrenching attitude adjustment. And it's not pretty to behold.

When we came home after years in the armed forces, our needs were modest. All most veterans wanted was to get on with the lives that were interrupted by Pearl Harbor. Sure, they hoped to be better off than they had been, many having endured the Great Depression, but essentially all we really wanted was to carry on and live the kind of lives lived by our parents.

Prior to the war the vast number of Americans lived in rural areas, many on family farms. Had there been no war to interrupt their lives, most would have been content to stay put. Then came the war, and men who had never been more than a few miles away from their birthplaces suddenly found themselves in every corner of the globe.

At the end of the first world war, people were singing a song that asked "How you gonna keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" The question was better asked at the end of the second great conflict. Millions had seen Paree or less exotic metropolises and experienced sensations they never knew existed. They saw a wider world filled with people immersed in a deep cynicism born of a millennia of strife and turmoil.

A generation raised in the belief that the best lay just ahead discovered how unique they were in believing in the future. Moreover, as the combat veterans of the Civil War were wont to say after a battle, they had "seen the elephant" and the sight had changed them forever. They had lost part of their innocence. But not all.

Most vets had ambitions, but they were modest. The advent of the GI Bill of Rights sent them by the tens of thousands to college campuses where they learned what they needed to know to fulfill their ambitions.

I can't recall any of my friends or acquaintances expressing grandiose visions of what they wanted to be. If they had planned a medical or legal career before the war, they hadn't veered from those ambitions. If they wanted to follow their fathers in whatever jobs they held, that's what they wanted.

I do remember, though, one Marine in boot camp saying that he had a burning ambition to be a ranking Mafiosi, although I don't think he called it that. Whether he reached those exalted heights I have no way of knowing. I can't recall reading about him, so he obviously never became a Cosa Nostra don or the victim of one.

For the most part, my fellow vets more than anything else wanted to marry their sweethearts, find a job and a decent place to live and raise lots of kids. That wasn't easy. There was a huge housing shortage at war's end.

Even as late as 1949, when I got married, finding a decent, reasonably priced apartment in the New York metropolitan area was all but impossible. We ended up in a one-room apartment in Great Neck, a "kitchenette" with sink, stove and refrigerator built into the wall and hidden behind a venetian blind. It had a lovely view of the brick wall of another building a few feet away. Rent? The lordly sum of $82.50 a month, a stiff price in those days.

Where there is a need, Americans have traditionally filled it when there is a profit to be made. In this case Abraham Leavitt and his sons, previously builders of what would now be known as upscale residences, bought a huge chunk of potato farmland on Long Island and created tract housing – thousands of mass-produced, small, identical, single-family houses – the Model Ts of the 1950s.

They also created suburbia and a new generation of commuters and gave birth to the likes of Bill O'Reilly. Levittown is his home sweet home, as he keeps reminding his fans. All across America, other builders followed the Leavitts' lead and the housing shortage was soon history.

As I already noted, the biggest change I have observed over the last 60 years has been the way in which Americans think. If you had sat us down in front of a time machine and showed us America in 2005, we would have reacted with equal parts of disbelief and rage.

Had we been told then that 40 million unborn Americans would be butchered with the approval of the United States Supreme Court, we would have simply said, "No way." We would never have believed that 60 years later Americans would seriously be debating whether men should be allowed to marry each other, or women permitted to wed women.

Not one of us would have believed that prayer would be banned in public schools or the Ten Commandments banished from the public square. Most vets were products of a public school system then among the world's best – schools where a daily prayer was routine.

Every one of them could read and write, knew at least simple math and geography and could even locate Sumatra on a map, were schooled in American history, understood the structure of the federal government, could name their representatives and senators, could tell you all about the founding fathers, could recite the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg address, and knew what the Bill of Rights contained.

We were products of the America that, in barely a century and a half, had risen from a backwater on its way to becoming the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the face of the earth. What enabled Americans to do what had been done was bred into our bones. We had absorbed the lessons of history, were a God-fearing people who respected each other and fully understood what a treasure was our liberty guaranteed by a Constitution we cherished.

It was these qualities that enabled those who fought World War II to prevail, just as they had enabled our forebears to build the great and good nation we inherited from them.

I think we are entitled to ask those who have worked so hard to tear down what our forebears had labored so hard to build over almost two centuries: "Just who gave you leave to set out to destroy everything that makes it possible for you to have the freedom of action you have so wantonly abused?"

This is not the America we defended, not the America to which we came home with such hopes and confidence. We have been called the "Greatest Generation." That may or may not be an accurate description, but we came forth out of what we knew was the greatest nation in the world. What have you people done to it?

Phil Brennan is a veteran journalist who writes for NewsMax.com. He is editor & publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He also served as a staff aide for the House Republican Policy Committee and helped handle the Washington public relations operation for the Alaska Statehood Committee which won statehood for Alaska. He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers


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Everything is different. Technology has created a world that was unimaginable to those of us who emerged from the second world war. The biggest difference between then and now, however, is not in the vast gap between a time of nascent technological growth and where we are...
Tuesday, 16 August 2005 12:00 AM
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