Thursday, June 09, 2016

In My Lifetime

I attribute my love of American history, parties and politics to my father.  He was a lifelong Republican but loved a Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was president a record breaking 12 years from 1933-1945 dying in his 4th term in office. My father loved everything about him from his aristocratic background, to his charisma, massive intellect and his inspirational use of the English language.  He would quote Roosevelt's words with Roosevelt's inflection such as "dastardly attack" referencing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or "we shall return agāin and agāin (pronounced with a patrician-sounding long second a) as well as "in our righteous might" referencing the imminent-coming of war after the Pearl Harbor attack the US was poised to enter and Roosevelt said we would in our “righteous might” win.  Of course, the famous Roosevelt quote from his first inaugural address "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" was a Rooseveltian staple of our many discussions of that era.

He gave Roosevelt credit for rescuing the nation giving it a New Deal sorely needed as a series of ineffectual Republican presidents before FDR could not philosophically fathom much less politically perfect a government assisted economic exit from the staggering joblessness of the Great Depression.  He, even though a Republican, saw the value of government response as FDR carved out this New Deal to breathe life into a dying nation.  My father placed country over Party and crossed his political line because he loved our nation more than he loved the Republican Party and saw the country needed immediate change.  Roosevelt, he said so often, saved the nation.  My father was born in the year 1906 when the other great Roosevelt, Teddy, was president.  He died in 1985 and was witness to much history.  He saw the emergence of an automobile transportation nation from the centuries old horse and buggy.  He told me the family lore that my grandfather had the opportunity to buy stock in a device called a telephone which my grandfather declined saying "Ah, a telephone will never happen."  Aversion to risk I inherited from those genes.

My father saw more.  He saw Dough-boys marching to WWI and even saw the last of the Civil War vets marching in Memorial Day parades.  He saw the bread lines of the Great Depression and watched as so many, wiped of their fortunes, jump off buildings because they had lost all hope. 

There was more he saw in his time.  He heard the drumbeats of Nazi Europe and saw in newsreels the marching of Nazi jackboots across European soil. He feared for his Jewish brethren but knew nothing of the monstrous concentration camps to which they would be sent.  Still, he said he felt secure in the geographical safety of this nation and knew those in power would not let it happen here. He remembered where he was when he heard of the Pearl Harbor attack and remembered the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki self-assured that this nation had to drop it against, as he saw it, an intractable Japanese and to save thousands of American lives from a Japan mainland invasion. When I asked him as a Jew was he not afraid of Hitler?  He said no, that he felt safe and secure in this massively strong country and because when our nation's people, quoting him, "rolled up their sleeves" he knew it would prevail. He had faith in the country.

He saw, too, the first Catholic president and his game changing assassination.  He saw the moon landing and also remained faithful to Richard Nixon until his helicopter exit and beyond it.  He saw the rise of protest in a nation that was not accustomed to such things as the questioning of its power and the moral rightness of a war it waged.  And he saw television that became a unifying force as we collectively viewed the Ed Sullivan Show, I Love Lucy, Bob Hope and 15 minutes of nightly news.  His life ended before he could see his beloved Red Sox winning the pennant and the World Series finally breaking the 1918 so called "Curse of the Bambino" for which he never forgave Harry Frazee, the Red Sox owner at the time who sold the Babe and my father did not see 9/11.

The historical baton was handed to me and I have seen other histories that overlapped my father's view and many that did not.   I saw 9/11, the rise of terrorism, the Boston Marathon bombing and other mayhem that came before it and yet to come after it.  I saw another humanity obliterating war mendaciously entered from which there is seemingly no exit.  I became aware of our nation's sins -- slavery and the Jim Crow laws in the south that kept persons of color from voting and kept them segregation separate and not equal at all.  I saw that prejudice in Boston as well as some violently opposed busing.  I lived though, too, Brown v. the Board of Education and the "Voting Rights Act" that attempted to right these moral wrongs inflicted for centuries on persons of color by a nation that turned its back on its holy creed of equality as Martin Luther King said “where its persons of color were concerned.”  I saw a civil rights movement and the murder of Chaney, Goodwin and Schwerner killed by vicious racists in Mississippi as the doomed men attempted to register persons of color to merely vote and I saw in 1963 the hideous killing of four young black girls attending religious services unknowing that a conspiracy of racist white men would bomb their 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

I saw, too, women stuck in roles they did not want and suffering through abusive marriages from which they could not flee because they had no source of income.   Finally, through the pressure of the women’s movement women secured at first a few low paying jobs but jobs nonetheless.  I saw women endure and, in fact die, from unsanitary back alley abortions finally freed from them through Roe v. Wade that made the procedure legal and safe.  In my lifetime I have seen many things such as the emergence of technology and the Internet.  The most profound national change I witnessed, though, was the election of the nation's first black president and I waxed jubilant bathing in the exceptionalism of a nation that had come so far and I lived to see it.

Now, in my lifetime, I have seen the first woman nominated by a major party with a more than even chance of becoming the first woman president in our nation's nearly 250 year history and 100 years after women secured the right to vote.  I have seen the greatness of this nation prevail due to its ability to perfect institutional change because a few brilliant men created a Constitution in 1787 that made it possible for it to improve itself non-violently and through the rule of law living up to its inborn creed that all men are created equal.  It is how our Republic survives to this day despite forces that would tear it down hearkening back to "the good ole days" that often were not very good at all.

Maybe, if I live long enough, I will see in my lifetime a nation that unites itself from the vestiges of its long ago Civil War past realizing that every life within it is in it together.  Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government the Founders created.  He said "A Republic IF you can keep it."  May we do so and may it, using the great Abraham Lincoln's words, "not perish from this earth."


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