National Geographic magazines are an excellent historical resource. It is fascinating to read the articles from the first half of the 20th century as the writers contrast the unlucky citizens of other nations with the lucky citizens of these United States. It recalls a fond memory, when America didn't have beggars on every street corner. It recalls a recent past when America had all the answers and was the envy of the world.
In 1938, the United States spent about the same percentage of its national product on war preparedness as Luxembourg did. We outspent every nation on earth on education, unemployment benefits, workplace safety, public libraries, and free public health. We had a small government deficit, a legacy of the Great Depression, but we had projections of surplus. People were concerned about the coming war in Europe, but more than half of the American people wanted us to stand clear of the whole mess.
In 1968, the United States was involved in a disastrous war in Southeast Asia that was harming our economy and our national prestige. We spent an amount of money about equal to half of what all the nations of the world spent (combined) for war preparations and we had slightly more than half of the total of the world's nuclear weapons. We had an active and vocal populace that was protesting unequality in the country - economic, social, and racial. We had the largest proportion of our population in University studies in the nation's history - and the largest percentage of our population was college educated, more than any other nation on earth.
Here we are in 2006, and the United States is again embroiled in an unpopular foreign war that harms our economy and our national prestige. We spend more than all the other countries of the world combined on war preparations and we have more than two-thirds of the world's nuclear weapons. We have a scared and apathetic population that is afraid of the world and afraid to speak out. We have the largest percentage of our citizens in prison, more than any nation on earth.
Clearly, we've been going in the wrong direction. Regardless of the rhetoric of left or right, the effect on our people and the effect of our people on the world has been getting worse, not better. It is no wonder that people retreat into fantasy lives of denial where everything is good and getting better - not because of any objective measure, but just because.
People are increasingly ignorant of what is happening both here and abroad and their ignorance gets more and more deliberate. The eventual costs to the nation can't help but be catastrophic, but those costs will be borne by our children and not ourselves. The office holders of today will be long retired before the bill comes due for their lies and lack of vision. We're stealing the future for our current gain. If our children survive, how many reasons they will have to hate and scorn our memory.
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