Why My Boomer Generation Failed Us All
I was born on D-Day — June 6, 1944 and my unwed mother, lying alone in a hospital with a permanently stiff leg from primitive knee operations, listened to the stirring radio announcement by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower of the Allied landings in Normandy, and decided to name me after him.
It was a strange name, Dwight, to have in Quebec City, where I was raised. A protestant, my school companions were a polyglot mix of WASPs, Jews and Jehovah’s, as our little high school was a de facto quarantine area for non-compliant religions, given the french-speaking majority and a vibrant Irish catholic population, who had arrived in great numbers following the famine in Ireland.
My mother had been abandoned during the depression by her father, and again during the war by her paramour, both men CPR locomotive engineers with multiple love interests ‘up the line’. I had thus been ‘snapped off an army blanket’ as the saying went, but I was blind to it all, and grew up with an adopted father in the 50’s who was amiable and reserved.
This gentle man, Stephen Jones had once been a hard-drinking rowdy and continued with that when he joined the army in 1939. Fittingly, he was in the brig for being AWOL when his regiment was dispatched to be slaughtered by ‘the Japs’ in Hong Kong. When he meekly appeared before the CO to volunteer for the air force, in lieu of, the WW1-vintage officer took a liking to him and refused his application, knowing that the survival rate of early bomber crews was less than fifty percent. Given his rare knowledge of trigonometry, his commandant assigned him to the artillery, and the British 8th Army.
Following boring years of training in England, he then had to battle crack German defenders all the way from North Africa, up through Italy and finally Holland, sometimes with enemy infantry in among his gun grids. But he had eluded the fate of Quebec’s Royal Rifles, whose survivors faced four years in Japanese slave labor camps. Like most of his generation, he did his duty; and after the horror of fifteen years of depression and war and lost comrades, he neither drank nor discussed either ordeal again.
In contrast, I had been delivered into the bright post-war period versus his youth of conflict and unrelenting poverty — that was to be forgotten. I was free to enjoy the jocularity of my many Jewish classmates, who acted as if unaware of the recent holocaust — it was unmentionable. The ‘Great Generation’ went silent about such matters, their growing children tantalized by this ‘modern’ world of suburbia, with its flashy new cars that sprouted ever-larger fins (and car payments) each fall.
I thrived in the 1950’s, achieved good grades throughout, and earned a modest scholarship to attend respected McGill University in Montreal. I was a founding member of the nascent ‘boomer generation’, and a latter-day classmate of Leonard Cohen.
During my 1961 graduation year, US President Dwight Eisenhower reappeared to deliver a foreboding, farewell speech in which he warned that “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military-Industrial Complex.” He warned of an ‘iron triangle’ in which Congress, the Pentagon and Industry were in an unholy relationship fueled by corrupt lobbyists. Yet the Eisenhower presidency had enjoyed overdue peace and growth, and his unerring words would remain blissfully ignored, to this day.
After bouncing around a few universities and flunking out more than once, I finished up with a degree in philosophy after spending years in physics and chemistry. When my pre-med studies at UC Berkeley failed to overcome my chequered academic record, I surrendered to summers of love and joined the Vancouver nexus of freaks and draft dodgers, to run a hopeless, hippy garage.
At the time I was on the fringes of the fledgling Greenpeace birthing in Kitsilano, but declined an opportunity to sail off into the Alaskan seas to protest the Amchitka nuke testing. I did want to save the whales, am a lifelong boater, and had supported the ‘ban-the-bomb’ movement since the heyday of Bertrand Russell, yet my years studying physics made me sympathetic to nuclear power. The new Greenpeace directors were aghast at my heresy, and I took the opportunity to exit, and watched their first vessel motor by from Wreck Beach.
For us boomers, it was the dawning of the Age of Failure, not Aquarius. Greenpeace made nuclear power the main target of their stunts, and the hipsters of the 70’s saw to it that nuclear power stations were demonized, despite safer, new designs and our accelerating computer expertise to manage them.
I had argued that nuclear waste was a character problem, not a technical one. If you foul your own nest with nuclear waste (unlikely a mile down in a granite ex-gold mine) you can’t blame the technology. Nobody much cared about climate change, and so the way was cleared for coal and oil to remain dominant, worldwide. It was an inflection point that arguably dooms the entire planet, if the tundra warms up and floods us with methane.
Nuclear power was the best and last friend our atmosphere had, before we choked both to death out of ignorance.
The Vietnam war saw the boomer generation throw its best efforts at opposing the military-industrial cartel, but after the back-to-the-land movement blossomed and died, many new-agers just put on suits to complement their bell-bottoms and sideburns, and took straight jobs selling insurance and pumping stocks.
It was my generation that embraced Reaganomics and looked away when the wealth of our species was diverted to build nuclear submarines and ICBMs. This forced the Russians to do the same, ultimately bankrupting them, when faced with characters like Nixon and General Curtis Lemay, who could resolve any political situation with a few unkind words, probably meant — his SAC bombers were always aloft.
We allowed one rogue nation to continue fascism beyond the dreams of Mussolini, building 800 military bases around the world to ‘protect its interests’ — those being low-wage capitalism, corruption, fossil fuels, squelched democracies, and weapons deals.
Its corrupt ‘zero tolerance’ law enforcement has seen the ‘land of the free’ devolve to a society with privatized prisons and an incarceration rate seven times that of Germany. What was this, a fascist hand-off to a country with a large German ethnicity? Can we look at this again — who won that war, anyway?
The United Nations was held bankrupt, funded at ~2% of military budgets, and used largely in messy disaster, famine, and pre-invasion conditions. The idea of collective security among nations does not exist in western diplomacy, unless the US Navy is the guarantor. Militarism remains the cancer of our species, our warships stark monuments to human failure, their funding stolen from the poor.
While weapons and space science progressed magnificently, our very bad science continues to undermine everybody’s health. The “Seven Countries Study” of Ancel Keys established a media bandwagon, including all American Heart Association policies thereafter, wherein fats were demonized and grains were lionized as the largest ‘food group’ across the bottom of the triangle. It turns out that it ignored sugar — a dangerous drug, and the fact that our species is not properly adapted to grains.
While we have cultivated grains for 10,000 years, like sugar they have only come into widespread, daily use very recently, and in the scale of deep time, that’s not enough to match up with the fact that our bodies have always burned fat, not carbs. We’re trying to run our diesel metabolisms on sugar-gas.
Further, autophagy has only now been revealed to be our master healer and protector, dependent on fasting, which in the days of yore was known as frequent, imminent starvation. Our bodies scrape together our garbage tissues in times of shortage, and at the end of the process sends in the stem cell cavalry to actually rebuild our organs. Too bad we had to end up with 50% obesity as a society before our hotshot science woke up 60 years after the boomer gen introduced Ancel Keys.
The boomers’ reputable legacies, however diluted and willfully ignored, are global governance and community, the Internet, and the Block-chain's promise of truth for ‘pirate’ parties using referenda for our decision making, and transactions by honest brokers.
Societies can be based on equality, not printing money, as Scandinavia has taught us. Plain-speaking visionaries like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders must be heard by too-quiet American hearts and minds, or our fading civilization will disappear in decades.
We learned a lot in the 60’s, but as Jimmy Buffet, our leading philosopher of that era, commented on the precious opportunity we had: “We pissed it away so fast.”