This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2008 - 9/11 was not Pearl Harbor

I remember talking to my father about the days before Pearl Harbor. Times were hard.

The list of problems passed from memory to history almost to legend: the Depression, the Dustbowl, bread lines, bankers leaping from Wall Street skyscrapers. Nothing seemed to be working: not business, not government, not even the weather.

Then, on December 7, 1941, a surprise attack by the Japanese against a United States naval base in Hawaii transformed public opinion almost overnight. Within two weeks, at least according to my father's WWII navy buddies, the United States went from a suspicious and isolationist stance to a unified nation braced for war.

The change was both immediate and remarkable.

The overall death toll at Pearl Harbor reached 2,350. On 9/11, almost 3,000 people died in the attacks. And here's this week's discussion question: Why didn't America snap into alignment the two weeks following September 11, 2001?

There are at least two possible reasons. First, we knew how to apply the idea of "war" to a nation. Japan was geographically distinct. It had a hierarchy of well known leaders.

The "war on terrorism," however, wasn't so clear. A nation can surrender. But how do you know when you finally beat the terrorists? Answer: You don't.

A never-ending war is one of the premises of George Orwell's "1984." It's not a good thing.

Second, there was a generational line-up in 1941 that was unusual.

There were older Americans who spoke with a strong moral authority -- part of the so-called "Missionary Generation," born between 1860 and 1882. FDR became their most powerful voice, uniting the nation through a series of "Fireside Chats." Commercial radio, then, was about where the Internet was in 2001.

There was also a mid-life generation of get-it-done generals. The "Lost Generation" (born 1883-1900) had survived their hardscrabble, hard-drinking youth, and faced the realities of war straight-on, without flinching.

Then there was the young "greatest generation," born 1901-1924. Heroic, optimistic, good scouts, they rallied together and gave their all.

Together, these three generations made up the perfect sequence of gifts and abilities to triumph in war.

Various historians have pointed out the similarities of generational types across the ages. The Missionaries were much like today's Boomers: fiery in youth, judgmental and self-righteous in midlife, compelling and powerful as seniors.

The Lost were much like today's GenXers. And the GI's had a lot in common with today's young Millennials.

So what was the difference? In brief, at the historic moment of 9/11, we were half a generation off. We were all just a little younger than the peak of our potential.

So instead of a sudden realignment into a socially cohesive society, with clearly defined, understood and accepted roles, we ... went shopping.

The odds are very good -- approaching certainty-- that the United States of America will face another crisis. What happens then may have less to do with the trigger than with the generational alignment of the nation holding the gun.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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