December 12, 2012

Decades Stun

The title of this post is taken from a verse written by Richard Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate. The verse was at the beginning of Winter Kills, which was about the Kennedy assassination: Minutes trudge, hours run, years fly, decades stun. The source was attributed to a non-existent tome called The Keener's Manual.

Why do I bring this up? No reason, really, except I had this odd moment the other day, thinking about decades. Why I was thinking about decades? Well, I've been working on a book about the 1950s, which was partially inspired by a couple of typewritten pages written by an aunt about growing up in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Somewhere in my head, that got cross-wired with a book I've been reading about the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

I know what you're thinking. 1919? Think of it this way. Every intractable geopolitical problem, every brutal war that haunted the 20th Century devolved from decisions made in Paris in 1919. So yeah, it's kind of important and interesting. Think of it as conducting a pre-mortem investigation on the bloodiest century in human history.

Anyway, in the course of mulling these disparate topics over, my subconscious came up with a 30-year pattern hidden in the decades. The 1930s were a decade filled with turmoil. So were the 1960s. The 1920s were a decade that spawned fundamental changes in American culture. So were the 1950s, or at least that's the thesis of my work in progress. The second decade saw a massive war, the war to end all wars. Three decades later came World War II. Three decades after that we were in Vietnam. Sixty years after the Great Depression, we saw another economic bubble collapse into a heap, leading to the mini-Depression we are still recovering from.

It's easy to carry this too far. Like democracy, history is messy, rarely pigeon-holing itself into neat little categories.Still, it does make you wonder. Mark Twain was on to something when he observed that history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes. Certainly, there seems to be pattern of enormous social and economic transition and growth, the boom, which is followed by the bust, then war.

So we have finally arrived at the big question lurking in the shadows of this essay. Is another world war possible? I have been thinking about that for many years. Likely? I hope not. Possible? For my money, yeah, it's possible. Why would such a thing happen? Other than the fact that we have lots of people who have a hair trigger thanks to religious and ethnic animosities that have festered for centuries? Can't think of anything, offhand, although you have to believe that an old world order that runs on petroleum and the products it creates--everything from gas to plastics to medicines--will find plenty of casus bellis as the pumps inevitably run dry. Add  to that the pressures of a changing climate, and, yeah, I can see plenty of trouble ahead.

Let's hope this doesn't happen ... again. Let's hope that for once, the past is not prologue to the future, that things don't rhyme, that the next generation can be the Walt Whitmans of the planet and come up with a new song of ourselves, one that celebrates "the common air that bathes the globe."

No comments:

Post a Comment