With Russia and Putin hovering over our election, I thought back to Mr. Putin’s New York Times Op-Ed in 2013 regarding Syria. Mr. Putin opened his op-ed to the U.S. and its political leaders seeking to avoid devastation.
Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation [my emphasis] from ever happening again.
Devastation. The word comes from the Latin verb, devastare —to lay waste, and from the Latin adjective vastus –empty, desolate.
Putin knows devastation. Born in 1952, 7 years after the end of World War II, baptized in secret, Putin grew up in a devastated family in a devastated country. Both of Putin’s older brothers had died; the oldest son died in infancy in the 1930s, the second, of diphtheria during the Siege of Leningrad.
His family was not alone, in Russia almost 13% of the population perished during the war, with over 7 million civilian deaths and nearly that many military deaths. More Russian civilians died in WWII than soldiers, almost 14 million Russians perished. In contrast the United States lost roughly 400,000 soldiers and 1,700 civilians, altogether less than one percent of the total population.
The brutal warfare along the Eastern Front left Russia devastated economically as well: a quarter of its capital resources were destroyed and agricultural output was lower than it had been in the 1920s. Stalin killed an estimated 20 million Soviet citizens. Add the economic disaster of Communism to the destruction of WWII and you have a land made empty, desolate.
Vladimir must have been a source of hope for his parents in the devastated emptiness after the war, like his Baby Boomer peers in the U.S. were for the G.I. Generation after the Great Depression and WWII.
However, unlike post war Russia, post war America was a cornucopia. Unlike the rest of the industrialized world, the United States had not been bombed into rubble. We were the exception. We had no industrial competition. Everyone in the world bought our stuff.
In the U.S., real consumption rose by 22 percent between 1944 and 1947, and spending on durable goods more than doubled in real terms. Gross private investment rose by 223 % in real terms, with a whopping six-fold real increase in residential- housing expenditures.
The private economy boomed as the government sector stopped buying munitions and hiring soldiers. [i]
The nation’s gross national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950 and to more than $500,000 million in 1960. It was a unique moment in history when the Boomers came of age. As the Economist writes:
These Boomers have lived a charmed life, easily topping previous generations in income earned at every age… Households became smaller, populated with more earners and fewer children. And Boomers enjoyed the distinction of being among the best-educated of American generations at a time when the return on education was soaring.
Yet these gains were one-offs… boomer income growth relied on a number of one-off gains.
Our Baby Boomer political leaders grew up as well-cared-for children in the brand-new suburbs, at a time of unprecedented optimism and wealth. The strength and wealth of the nation were so secure that they could “tune in, turn on, and drop out”; in that fit of Daddy-anger that was the late 1960s.
There was material wealth to be sure, but the Boomers were devastated in their own way, uprooted from their ethnic enclaves in the northern cities (if Catholic) and from their Midwestern towns and farms (if Protestant), devastated psychically in the wasteland of Levittown and cul de sacs. In fact, Baby Boomers now have the highest suicide rate of any generation[ii]. The Me Generation is an alienated generation. It was an exceptional mirage, material wealth masking spiritual devastation.
Tom Wolfe, himself of the Silent Generation sandwiched between the GIs and the Boomers, described the exceptional nature of Boomer self-absorption as having discarded the “age-old belief in serial immortality.”
Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, ‘I have only one life to live.’ Instead, they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offsprings’ lives and perhaps their neighbors’ lives as well… The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things.
Climbing out of the stream upon their rise to power in the early 1990s, with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and the accession of Newt Gingrich as House Speaker in 1994, it was declared The End of History, by Francis Fukuyama, born in 1952 like Mr. Putin.
Revolutionary Boomers rebelled against the traditions of the past and are wrecking the future. Wolfe echoes G.K. Chesterton who wrote that:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
Clinton went to war in the Balkans, intervened in Somalia, and bombed Iraq. Madeline Albright suggested 500,000 dead Iraqi children, “was worth it,” whatever “it” was. Bush and Obama have warred on Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, with Boomer war-drums beating for Syria and Iran.
The LA Times, using CBO numbers, says Iraq and Afghanistan will be the most expensive war in U.S. history. Afghanistan is already the longest[iii]. The Millennial Generation “has been at war their whole lives.”
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, with medical care and disability benefits weighing heavily for decades to come, according to a new analysis.
The bill to taxpayers so far has been $2 trillion, plus $260 billion in interest on the resulting debt. By comparison, the current federal budget is $3.8 trillion.
The largest future expenses will be medical care and disability benefits for veterans, [Linda] Bilmes [public policy expert at Harvard University] predicted. “The big, big cost comes 30 or 40 years out,” she said.
The Boomers inherited a fortuitous economic head start on their global peers. Their G.I. fathers had bombed all industrial competitors into dust. Mistaking this head start as an “unconditional election” to be global hegemon, they have proceeded to spend the principal of their exceptional economic endowment. Now they are mortgaging the future of their progeny to continue the fiction. Boomer Bernanke did not taper. Yellen continues. Boomers exempt themselves from history and borrow against their posterity.
Are the Boomers on an extended ballistic tantrum? A cruise-missile hissy fit? Are they just acting out? They have proceeded to lay waste to the foundations of their inheritance, graduating from waging ideological wars on the institutions that raised them, to waging whimsical wars abroad, costing billions, from Clinton through Bush and Obama. As Baby Boomer Chris Hedges writes, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”
Boomers have indebted their children and grandchildren with these wars of theirs, for some notional, Platonic ghost of Democracy, which also [just happens] to bring with it market-opening opportunities for Democracy! Whisky! and Sex![iv] to these bedraggled traditional peoples who only know the ways of their ancestors and not our enlightened, modern ways; not for any real national threat, but spuriously, based upon lies and/or to cover up lies.
On the other hand, Putin knows about the wasteland left by Great Patriotic Wars, about the economic and moral collapse of a people broken by war. He knows about the decades of U.S. sponsored jihad on his country’s southern borders, and the unintended consequences and blowback of such sponsorship and intervention. (see: Boston Marathon Bombing)
Putin’s Mother Russia was not just devastated economically, it was devastated morally and spiritually after WWII, annihilating its own future with some of the highest abortion rates in the developed world through the 1990s, with alcoholism and other social pathologies devastating their ability to continue as a people Rus.
Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward. -Vernon Law, baseball player, Silent Generation
Russia in general, and Putin in particular, have experienced the test of war and devastation, they learned the lessons. Recently, Russian birthrates surpassed those of the US. As Tom Wolfe noted, this is an indication of belief in a future and a sense of continuity for themselves as a people and as a civilization. Putin the practical politician does not want devastation again.
Having experienced the devastation of war across his country’s borders and in his own family, Mr. Putin finishes his Op Ed using the crusading, religious terminology of the American Baby Boomer political class -teleological “democracy”, while echoing the Declaration of Independence:
There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
America is exceptional to us because it is ours, not because of the historical, economic anomaly of the post war years, not because it stands astride the world as a Colossus. It is not merely a consumer market nor a labor pool. It is our nation, and we can love because it is ours, not because it is “Number 1!”
Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Mexicans, Somalis, Vietnamese, etc. are not deformed Americans waiting to be fully Americanized. They can love their countries too, to think that their country is exceptional because it is theirs, whose blessings they hope to pass on to their posterity, as we hope to pass on our nation to our posterity.
The devastation of WWII and the devastation of Communism led to a devastation of the soul of the great Russian people and their civilization, a civilization that is literally being born again.
The spiritual devastation of the Baby Boomers, their antiseptic yet materially rich upbringing in suburban alienation, has resulted in the material devastation of whomever gets in the way of their tantrums –be it the civic institutions they inherited, or the indigenous cultures of small countries who rub them the wrong way.
Baby Boomers took for granted the material wealth and security in which they were raised. They attacked the very civilization and institutions that had made them the best-raised and most educated generation of children in the history of the world to that point. They exempted themselves from their legacy and borrowed against their posterity.
Tom Wolfe recognized the unintended consequences for the Boomers’ rejection of civilizational norms in the 1960s:
In 1968, in San Francisco, I came across a curious footnote to the hippie movement. At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, there were doctors treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot. And how was it that they now returned? It had to do with the fact that thousands of young men and women had migrated to San Francisco to live communally in what I think history will record as one of the most extraordinary religious fevers of all time.
The hippies sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start from zero. At one point, the novelist Ken Kesey, leader of a commune called the Merry Pranksters, organized a pilgrimage to Stonehenge with the idea of returning to Anglo-Saxon’s point zero, which he figured was Stonehenge, and heading out all over again to do it better. Among the codes and restraints that people in the communes swept aside–quite purposely–were those that said you shouldn’t use other people’s toothbrushes or sleep on other people’s mattresses without changing the sheets, or as was more likely, without using any sheets at all, or that you and five other people shouldn’t drink from the same bottle of Shasta or take tokes from the same cigarette. And now, in 1968, they were relearning…the laws of hygiene…by getting the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.
This process, namely the relearning–following a Promethean and unprecedented start from zero–seems to me to be the leitmotif of the twenty-first century in America. -from Hooking Up
The whimsical way in which Boomers go to war suggests a need for a great relearning of the rules of civilization. But it also suggests “war as psychotherapy” and is reminiscent of the “World War as an Afterthought” theme in the background of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, when a sick and decadent nation continually goes to war abroad while waging a domestic war on the minds of its pharmacologically pacified citizens, and on culture itself:
[Montag has just come home to find his interactive-television addicted wife overdosed on sleeping pills.]
The object he had sent tumbling with his foot now glinted under the edge of his own bed. The small crystal bottle of sleeping-tablets which earlier today had been filled with thirty capsules and which now lay uncapped and empty in the light of the tiny flare.
As he stood there the sky over the house screamed. There was a tremendous ripping sound as if two giant hands had torn ten thousand miles of black linen down the seam. Montag was cut in half. He felt his chest chopped down and split apart. The jet-bombs going over, going over, going over, one two, one two, one two, six of them, nine of them, twelve of them, one and one and one and another and another and another, did all the screaming for him. He opened his own mouth and let their shriek come down and out between his bared teeth. The house shook.
The Boomer devastation, because it is wholly spiritual, is worse than the material and economic devastation that informed Putin’s childhood, which probably made him all the more practical and ruthless.
Boomer devastation is in their psyche, the pain of their desolation screams out in cruise-missiles and F-16s. They are pissing away the material wealth that they inherited by bombing deserts.