The Indianapolis Star
January 20, 1993
Alan W. Dowd
A new president now waits in the wings as George Bush puts the finishing touches on his public life. But this transition of power marks much more than a change in party, much more than a new government. Bush’s passage from leadership into humble citizenship represents a broader change in our society. The Bush presidency was the last public symbol of the World War II generation; its culmination brings with it the end of an entire generation’s selfless service to America and the cause of freedom.
Ronald Reagan once observed that few generations have fought as hard or sacrificed as much as the World War II generation. Indeed, that generation was shaped by the fires of war and lost many of its own in waging global struggles against the empires of Europe and Asia. Its selflessness grew from an innocent, though indomitable patriotism which many of its children would scorn and many more of its grandchildren would never understand. It was this patriotism which enabled the young men of the 1940s to defeat Nazism and conquer Japanese imperialism, transforming America from a hermit republic into a global power.
Unified by the titanic and noble cause of the Second World War, George Bush’s generation would again be asked to "pay any price" as the Soviet menace emerged from the rubble of Europe to challenge the new world’s reluctant leader. Without protest, without dissent, the men and women of that era humbly accepted the challenge. A genuine love for freedom and a sincere belief in the superiority of the American way of life--enhanced by the confidence which only experience can bring--would compel this generation to contain the Soviet war machine.
Decades would pass before America enjoyed the fruits of an entire generation’s vigilance and preparedness. The liberation of Europe, only partly achieved with the blood and sacrifice of the 1940s, was finally realized with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and disintegration of Moscow’s artificial union. It would have been appropriate for the men and women who began this struggle to claim the conquest of Soviet communism as their own, but they did not. Not surprisingly, the humble, silver-haired conquerors of Leninism--who were once the young, heroic liberators of Africa, Europe, and Asia--claimed this moment for all Americans, and for all the world.
But the World War II generation did not wage the Cold War alone. Its children took up the fight in the jungles of Vietnam. They held back Moscow’s Iron Curtain in Europe, and guarded desolate outposts in Cuba and Korea. The youth of the 1960s were indeed a powerful force in the postwar experience, but not nearly as united as their parents had been. Divisions could be seen across the nation as some from this generation found their cause in opposing the war in Vietnam; many others would face the enormous risks and challenge the impossible odds of a global struggle, just as their fathers had done in 1941.
Bloodied and scarred by a mismanaged war, this restless generation finally traded the hopeful idealism that had sustained its parents for a cold cynicism. By the early seventies, the postwar generation had rejected the mantle of leadership which its mothers and fathers still carried. The election of Bill Clinton marks the return of this generation to the public stage.
The challenges facing this new generation of leaders parallel those faced by the World War II generation. Europe is again devastated, not by the tools of war but by the failures of the totalitarian state. For the second time in a century, Europe needs American industry and ingenuity to mend its economic and social fabric. Tyranny and oppression persist, even as dictatorship gives way to democracy around the globe. The postwar generation must rise to meet this great challenge. The triumph of freedom in Eastern Europe was not without costs. In outlasting the Soviet Union, the World War II generation and its offspring spent over 5 trillion dollars on defense. These were necessary expenditures, and without them the Cold War with Moscow might have ended in a much less peaceful manner.
A third generation will play the final part in the drama of this half-century. The grandchildren of the World War II generation, the post-postwar generation, will inherit the responsibility of paying the debts incurred during the Cold War. Considering the sacrifice made by those who precede us, this is a small price to pay for liberty. Moreover, it would be an honor to complete what our grandparents began in Berlin so many years ago.