Where do we go from here?

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This is an essay about American social and political history from World War 2 until now. It highlights the events that changed us from a conservative,isolationist country into "the leader of the free world", whether we wanted that responsibility or not. This change required us to choose between "guns or butter" as president Johnson put it. We chose both. We are now paying the consequences for that irrational decision. This essay attempts to explains why.

Submitted: January 24, 2014

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Submitted: January 24, 2014

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Where do we go from here?

My life has spanned World War 2, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Middle Eastern conflicts. Each of these wars has had a profound impact on our society, changing it into something it had not been previously. The Second World War changed the country from a conservative, isolationist one into “The Leader of the Free World”, whether we wanted that responsibility or not. We entered it as a “Christian” nation with what was considered high Christian morals. We came out of it less innocent, with international responsibilities and atomic bombs.  A society that had suffered the poverty of the great depression found itself suddenly wealthy as American products became the envy of the world, creating well paying jobs and an expanding middle class. We were the envy of the world for five years, until the Korean War started.

Those were five heady years, a wonderful time to be living. Consumer products that had been scarce were now readily available. There were new cars to be bought, and tires for you old car. There were affordable houses being built (did you ever hear of Levittown?).  There was that wonderful new invention called television to entertain us in our new homes. There was nothing America couldn’t do, we believed.

The Korean War (It is sometimes called the forgotten war) changed that perception. In the space of five years we went from being the world’s only super power to being bogged down in a small Asian country by what we considered to be a primitive, ill equipped, undisciplined army. How wrong we were. By then Russia had the atomic bomb . China had been taken over by the Communist after their civil war and they had a huge army. When North Korea invaded South Korea, Russia supported them with weapons and advisors, and China sent in troops thru their border with North Korea. World War 3 threatened to break out. We had almost completely disarmed ourselves after the end of World War 2. After a disastrous beginning the American forces (technically the U.N. forces) managed to force the North Koreans back to the Chinese border. China, feeling threated by an American invasion across their borders, sent in an enormous army to repel us. After very severe combat a truce was negotiated, restoring the previous borders of Korea.  More than fifty thousand American casualties had been sustained in order to return things to where they had been a few years before.  America became more divided as each political party blamed the other for the fiasco.

 The Communist takeover of China had been a major shock. Christian missionaries had been going there for more than a hundred years, converting some to Christianity and coming to have strong feeling for the people. Their feelings had been passed on to a large segment of the American population, which became furious about “the loss of China”. When the “loss” of the Korean War was added to that situation, our country became divided more than at any time since our own Civil War, a division only to be made worse some fifteen years later by another Asian war involvement in Vietnam.

These were years of disillusionment. The cold war was at its peak. America was war weary. Many of us wanted to withdraw from the world stage, reduce our military spending and use the money for social programs. Our military and some political leaders warned that to do that would lead to a Communist take- over of Europe and much of the world. The battle lines became even more entrenched between the political “left” and “right”. Into this cauldron the baby boom generation was born. Many of them were the children of veterans of the Second World War, people that tended to be conservative. Others were the children of civilians who had never been in the military, people that saw military spending as wasteful and depriving the American people of social benefits they were “entitled” to. Their influence on their children would cause the next great division of our society when the Vietnam War started.

Like the Korean War, our involvement in the Vietnam War was as a proxy against Communist expansion. Once again, a northern communist country was trying to take over its neighbor to the south.  American “advisors” first arrived there in 1950, to assist the French who had been fighting there for many years. Our involvement grew in the coming years until regular combat troops were sent there in 1965. The war expanded into Laos and Cambodia, and a large protest movement, led by the baby boomers, turned public opinion against it. Our direct involvement in the war finally ended in 1973. More than fifty eight thousand American soldiers had been killed, and the North took control of South Vietnam. The social impact of the war was enormous.

The American military was severely discredited. They had lost the war! For the first time in our history returning soldiers were looked upon with distain. The public’s faith in its government and the honesty and competence of its leaders was shattered. The effects on the returning veterans were devastating. They were shunned and cursed. More of them committed suicide than had been killed in the war! Even more of them became homeless. The bipartisan consensus on foreign policy that had existed since 1940 (politics stops at the water’s edge) no longer existed. Americans became more and more politically divided, and our culture suffered the similar divisions. A large “counter culture” developed, opposed to almost everything previous generations of Americans had believed in. These divisions still exist forty years later.

Fifty years ago President Johnson declared a war on poverty. The “Great Society” programs were passed into law. By 2011 about $13,000 was spent for every person living below the poverty line of $23,000 for a family of four. Adjusted for inflation, spending for programs whose eligibility is set by low income has gone from $55 billion to $588 billion in the past fifty years. This does not include spending on Social Security and Medicare benefits. In 1982 the official poverty line was 15%. In 2010 it was still 15%. Things haven’t changed much, but the poor are better off than they used to be. About half of them have computers, 43% have central air conditioning and 36% have dishwashers. From 1990 to 2007 the entire increase in the official poverty rate was among Hispanics. This was another “lost” war. It was supposed to provide a “hand-up” not a “hand-out”. Instead, it created a welfare state. From 1963 to 2012 single parent families tripled. The children in these families tend to drop out of school, have children at an early age, and become un-employed. Their poverty is self-perpetuating.

The failure of the great society programs didn’t discourage government officials from trying something else. In 2008 wealth re-distribution became their new cause. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was their means. This law requires you to purchase a health insurance plan that the government designed for you. If you were single, lived in Riverside County, California, and earned about $46,000 a year or more, your cost was designed to subsidize someone who earned about $16,000 a year. The least expensive “Bronze” plan that cost you $4,464 a year will cost him $12 a year. The most expensive one cost you $4,824, while he still only pays $12. If you choose the cheapest “Silver” plan it will cost you $5,448 and him $252. For the cheapest “Platinum” plan you would pay $6,948, while he paid $1,752. In this manner wealth is taken from the middle class and given to the poor. This is not an issue about whether or not the poor should receive medical care, almost everyone thinks that they should. The issue is about how this should be achieved. Should the government play at being Robin Hood by stealing from the middle-class and giving to the poor?  What is its authority to do this?

Think about it! Isn’t there a better way to spend the trillions of dollars this program will take from middle class tax payers (the rich will hardly be affected)? Politicians have been dividing Americans into “have” and “have-nots” for more than six decades in order to increase their powers and authority over us. They have utilized the “divide and conquer” strategy and it has worked, because we have allowed them to do it. President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you” but we didn’t listen. We now have a country that asks, “What can my government do for me?” Obamacare is the answer it receives. It creates the final dividing lines in our society. In a decade there will be the rich, the “governing class” that supports them as it does now, and the other 300 million proletariat Americans. There will be little chance to move up from one group to the next. This burden will be borne by the millennial generation. This is the generation that will pay into social security but probably not receive its benefits (they’ll be stuck with more than a $20 trillion debt), the generation that paid $100,000 or more for an education that got them a minimum wage job, the generation our current government wants to pay for my social security benefits and health care (my contributions were spent by them a long time ago to pay for my parents benefits)!

We have already burdened them with $1 trillion in student debt and an unemployment rate over 16%. Of their college graduates, almost half of them work in jobs that do not require a four year degree.  Is this the future you want for America? Is this what you ask of your country?  It’s up to you and your vote, where do we go from here?

 


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