time around, I didn’t want to go with something snide and sarcastic.
had a couple of bad hurricanes hit the country, the war in Iraq is getting worse
and worse, and gas prices are through the roof. (And, worst of all, George W.
Bush is still our president.) I thought it would be nice to write a piece that’s
more optimistic than my usual stuff, so this article is just a bit warm and fuzzy.
Are the Good Old Days
issues just won’t go away: In Pennsylvania, the argument about teaching
intelligent design theory has now reached the courts. At its core, this
litigation concerns an unresolved question as old as man’s desire to explain
life’s mystery: Is
there a God?
believe no answer is possible, because there’s no data available.
Nevertheless, when the faithful pitch their position, they might want to mention
what could be the most important miracle in human history — more
wondrous than the parting of the Red Sea, the Red Sox winning the World Series,
or any number of loaves and fishes. We baby
boomers can bear witness that, since 1946, a
year after the first atomic bombs were detonated, not a single person has been killed by a
I’m not talking about the
fact that Muslim terrorists haven’t set off a dirty bomb somewhere, although
that’s a minor miracle in its own right, given our porous borders, lack
of port security, an inept administration
distracted by foreign adventures, and the impossibility of making a free and
open society absolutely terror-proof. The real miracle is that we and the
Soviets stared at each other over the barrels of thousands of nukes for more
than four decades without incinerating one another.
Since I was old enough to understand
such things, I worried that the lives of everyone I knew might be snuffed out at
the whim of one of the leaders of two countries that existed in perpetual
cold-war hostility. Yet, we survived the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, as well
as the tense 1980s, when our relationship with the Soviets bottomed out again,
without a single missile being launched.
Our survival certainly isn’t the
result of humility or rationality on the part of the governments involved.
Consider the hubris demonstrated by two nations willing to risk the lives of
every living thing on earth (except, maybe, the cockroaches) to protect their
political and economic systems from each other.
Consider also the irrationality of
continually adding to the nuclear arsenals when mutually assured destruction
(MAD) was already ensured by the existing inventories. And what of the insanity
of building bigger and better bombs after scientists — who are generally
ignored by government, unless they’re developing more-advanced weaponry
— determined that detonating just a small percentage of the world’s warheads
would trigger a “nuclear winter” likely to bring about the death of every
human being on earth?
But the fact that an
thermonuclear war never took place isn’t even the most unlikely aspect of this
miracle. The real wonder is that it didn’t happen accidentally. For decades,
fallible men on both sides waited with their fingers poised over “the
button” in missile silos, submarines and circling bombers. Given the gallons
of substandard vodka swilled by the average Russian soldier, and the tons of
marijuana inhaled by American military personnel during the late 60s and early
70s, our survival is truly astounding.
The Soviets couldn’t build a washing
machine or a television that worked. Russian-made cars were (and probably still
are) virtually undrivable and unmaintainable — nobody with access to a
Hyundai, or even a Yugo, would ever own one. Yet, somehow they managed to
assemble a modern, integrated weapons system that worked, or at least worked
well enough to prevent the launching of an accidental Armageddon.
I sleep a lot better now than I did in
the sixth grade, when I worried I might die in my bed from the nuclear Sword of
Damocles hanging over our collective head. That we made it through unscathed is
a miracle worth thanking someone for — I’m just not sure whom.*
So when someone starts going on about
how we’re living in the “worst of times,” as Dickens might have put it,
point out that “the good old days” began in 1991, when the Soviet Union
expired, taking with it the constant threat of total annihilation. That we’re
menaced by the prospect of a 9/11-size disaster is awful, as is the threat that
terrorists might one day detonate a stolen Soviet suitcase bomb. However,
relatively speaking, things could be (and have been) a whole lot worse.
That the U.S. hasn’t been hit a second
time by Islamic fanatics is a small miracle. And, of course, it’s an
incomplete one, because such an event could happen at any time. But the major
miracle is that we’re still here in these better times to worry about the
lesser terrors that frighten us now … although it would be nice if there
weren’t so many hurricanes … and gas weren’t so expensive. Maybe an
intelligent designer can do something about that.
I’m guessing most of you Republicans out there know exactly whom to thank for
everything and anything good that might have happened during the 20th century — from the end of the Cold
War and the winning of the Second World War to the invention of the computer and
the demise of disco music —
the greatest American ever to stride into the sunset: Ronald Reagan. But try to
keep that obnoxious idea to yourselves.
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