"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, March 28, 2014

The waves of time are many and varied

I have written about several of the World War II veterans of Stevens County in recent months. In my newspaper career I even wrote about at least two World War I veterans.
The stories about our WWII veterans are collected in the Stevens County Historical Society book, "The '40s: a time for war and a time for peace." There is at least one story in that book that is right out of hell, going beyond mere death, injury or accident, and helps us understand PTSD.
We allowed George W. Bush to take us into a needless war. We now hear cries from Republicans about how "weak" President Obama is about the Ukraine/Crimea matters.
Wars were blamed on Democratic presidents when I was a kid. Look who's jingoistic now. We'll be blessed if all we have to do is chase a few terrorists around.
The clunky war machines of WWII were right out of hell. War equipment was designed to tear human flesh apart.
The survivors of war, those who still have limbs and their general health, can talk about the noble nature of the war commitment. We hear speeches about this on such occasions as Memorial Day. I'm always a little troubled. Maybe I'm just a pacifist at heart.
Maybe I soaked in too much of the anti-war pleading of the 1960s. I have read about parents of WWII casualties who remained embittered for the rest of their lives. I read about the family of a D-Day casualty. They weren't going to be consoled by Memorial Day or Veterans Day speeches. They lost their own flesh and blood. To them the war was an intrusion.
War is waged by governments, or at least it was through the 20th Century. The generation that assailed our government for Viet Nam now makes up a good portion of the "tea party" that resents government. There's a common thread.
World War II is defined by the survivors. Those who didn't survive might not have such favorable things to say about our war commitment. Their parents didn't bring them into this life to experience this.
The WWII survivors came back to an America that was on the threshold of prosperity. The Depression would finally be behind us. War veterans found jobs relatively easily that enabled them to become breadwinners. They celebrated by having children.
In 1965, one-half of the U.S. population was under the age of 25. We could hardly be controlled, such were our numbers. Indeed, the power we had to rebel grew out of our sheer power of numbers. We had discretionary money.
Ever notice in those movies of "Hollywood's Golden Years" how teens were meant to be seen and not heard, in effect? Teens were subordinate and almost a burden for adults to deal with or acknowledge. It was an extension of childhood.
Children of that great WWII generation got empowered. The transistor radio allowed them to bathe in their own musical choices that made the music of just a decade earlier seem ancient. Marlon Brando in 1953's "The Wild One" made a statement as to our transforming culture.
J. Edgar Hoover called the new music "a corrupting influence." Ah, the generation gap. We learn this gap was "a product of widespread demographics and a predominantly white cultural zeitgeist that exalted novelty and shunned convention in spheres ranging from music to fashion."
I still have vivid memories of how so many of my college classes seemed preoccupied with eschewing convention. This was done to a fault, making me wonder just what kind of world these classes were leading us into. The deconstructionist voices were so strong, they seemed almost a parody of themselves at times.
I attended a state college - they're called "universities" today. I have learned since then that "state schools" were (or are) particularly notorious for promoting deconstruction ideas from the left side of the political spectrum.
I suspect that as institutions of higher education depend more and more on private funding sources, they will get steered to a more realistic perspective on life.
When I was done with college in 1978 - what a time to grow up - I wondered if I was supposed to believe in anything. This is hardly the kind of attitude you want in the nation's young people when they get to age 21 or 22. (I took until 22, sorry.)
I graduated from Morris High School in 1973. We were rebellious (I suspect, for the sake of being rebellious) with our class motto: "Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead." It's actually a quote from the U.S. Civil War: the battle of Mobile Bay.
Principal Wally Behm would tell us years later that he had a stressful time getting that motto pushed through the powers-that-be. Wally didn't keep up with the times very well - a shortcoming that I suspect is common among school administrators who can be slow recognizing generational changes. I don't know why.
Wally himself was dragged down by that pervasive feeling of resignation, feeling of cynicism or whatever you want to call it, that grew in the disco '70s. All that cocky optimism and enthusiasm for change in the '60s and the start of the '70s faded. Why?
It's the economy, stupid.
The year I graduated from MHS, 1973, may have been the worst year ever to graduate from high school. Economists remember the period of 1973 to 1983 as the "stagnation period."
I graduated from St. Cloud State University in 1978. It was at that institution that I heard an art instructor say that our tendency toward 90-degree angles in architecture might be due to Fascism. Is this how we got the science auditorium at our University of Minnesota-Morris campus? Or, our Morris Public Library with its slanted sides?
The pressure to avoid "convention" could be overbearing in the '70s. I think many of us have forgotten.
I remember when the TV series "My Three Sons" ended its run, and a looking-back special was presented. Right away Fred MacMurray said "This won't be a documentary," and later he said "We're not in the documentary business." What he was really saying was: "We're not doing this in the standard way, or the way you'd expect."
This TV show had its start in black and white and was a conventional sitcom. The Andy Griffith show followed the same path from B&W to color. While these shows remained pretty standard as sitcoms, they didn't seem quite the same in color, as if the cultural tumult across America had to force them to shift their focus. They couldn't be so predictable.
I'm reminded of male entertainers who felt they had to grow their hair longer than when younger. They were dragged along by that "zeitgeist." A bald or shaved head would have given you a stigma then. It's common and totally accepted now, along with being obese.
Young people became wild and crazy partly because of the unrest over Viet Nam which was totally understandable. Meanwhile that grand WWII generation kept living life as before, thankful for all their blessings, knowing how to pay the bills, going to church on Sunday (and to the Elks or Eagles Club on Saturday night, drinking to excess and acting stupid).
By 1978, when I got my SCSU diploma, the economic pain felt by the (economic) stagnation years had wiped out the cocky optimism which had resulted from the now-defunct post-WWII economic boom. Bummer, eh?
The world I entered after 1973, i.e. the world following the oil crisis of that year, was marked by - get ready - "stagflation." It might as well have been zombies. This "stag" thing was the combination of low economic and productivity growth, you kids, and high inflation (yuck).
An additional wrinkle: high interest rates! This is actually not consistent with secular stagnation. It was indeed hard for us to "damn the torpedoes" and proclaim "full speed ahead."
I think some of those torpedoes got us. It was hard to stay inspired by the 1967 John Lennon song "All You Need is Love." (The Monty Python gang modified this to "All You Need is Cash.")
My high school class recently had its 40-year reunion. We're becoming fossils, right? We have the wisdom of having experienced the shifting sands.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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