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“What’s the matter with kids today?” If you recall the 1963 musical “Bye, Bye Birdie,” Paul Lynde asked this question in song. It seemed that the kids of that generation (my generation, actually, and maybe yours) were good-for-nothings. “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way,” he opined?
It has been reported earlier this year that 47% of Springfield students do not graduate from high school; and that 47% of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate. It is yet another example of wasted youth leading to a life of underachievement. One is tempted to ask that question with emphasis: “What IS the matter with kids today?”
Fortunately, I was not disheartened by all of this news. I think our future is going to be placed into the hands of some very competent people; people of honor. I know this because I have had some wonderful experiences with youth over the years, some as recently as this past week.
For the last 25 years I have been a volunteer recruiter for my alma mater, the United States Merchant Marine Academy. During that time, I have witnessed the caliber of candidates applying for all of the academies increase in competence. They are academically, athletically, emotionally and socially better: more involved in meaningful extracurricular activities in school and community and church; curious; aware; focused. They came to Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee last Sunday to acknowledge this year’s crop of Academy appointees from Congressman Neal’s office and to explore their own options at Academy Day.
Then there was that story of the Boy Scout Troop from Louisiana who went backpacking in Arkansas when flash floods cut them off. They were overdue and the National Guard was dispatched to search for them. Not to worry: the Scouts were, as their motto says, prepared. They read the clues, sought higher ground, set up camp and waited for relief. They had plenty of food and water and had left a detailed itinerary behind. They stayed put, secure in the knowledge that either the waters would recede and they would get on their way or that they would be extracted. And extracted they were! The boys enjoyed their first helicopter ride on Tuesday morning last. Ten fingers and ten toes intact, everyone got home safe and sound. Teenagers, mostly, they stayed cool. They followed the procedures and displayed discipline enviable of a military unit. I’ve been a Boy Scout leader for many years now and it has been my distinct honor to have mentored more than a few boys in the ways of the Scout Oath and Law.
“On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country.”
What else can we ask of a child?
Then came Wednesday night when I addressed the Worcester Flight Academy. The audience included a Civil Air Patrol squadron with a large contingent of adolescent youth. They were impeccably dressed, well manner, attentive and eager. They were pursuing their dream of flight and had come to hear some aviation sea stories from someone almost four times their age.
If you advance the clock on this age group by no more than 10 years, there was another group of youth who made a difference in Pakistan just a week ago when a Special Forces unit brought justice to the world’s most wanted fugitive. Yet another group of young Americans who could.
This week, I read something from Aristotle. He lived some four centuries before Christ and had this observation:
“The Young People have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things — and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning — all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything — they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else.”
What a week it has been. Curious high school students, accomplished Boy Scouts, proficient young aviators and brave sailors who traded their youth to honor their country, all crowded my consciousness. The conclusion is inescapable: we ARE in good hands. Let us make certain that these children succeed. Without them, our future would be very uncertain indeed.
For as the prophet Isaiah reminds us,
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
Perhaps you have heard about the bombshell dropped by the International Monetary Fund earlier this week? It is a simple statement, really, yet its’ implications will transcend our very way of life. More importantly, the lives of our children and their children will be forever changed.
I am talking about the declaration that the “Age of America” is nearly behind us. The US economy will be overtaken, says the IMF, by the year 2016. That seems to be a few decades sooner than anyone expected. The analysis is based upon a concept known as Purchasing Power Parity. Think of it this way: rather than compare how many dollars one earns, think about it in terms of what those dollars can buy. If you basic lifestyle essentials cost, let’s say, 10 times less in one country than another, than one needs 10 times less money to have achieved parity in lifestyle across borders. That describes the situation in China today.
So what, you say? Let’s begin to look at the ramifications that such a change in global economic leadership might bring. First of all, let’s recall that the official name of this new economic juggernaut is the People’s Republic of China. I grew up knowing it as Communist China or Red China. It was run by Mao Zedung, a despotic leader responsible for more death than Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin combined. He ruled China until 1976. That’s just 35 years ago.
We remember life in America 35 years ago quite vividly. It was the bicentennial celebration year. America was licking its wounds from Vietnam and Watergate and Jimmy Carter was elected President. Richard Nixon, who ironically opened China to Western trade, was in a national exile. We were at the height of the Cold War with conflict in Europe seemingly imminent. The US economy, though afflicted by inflation and high interest rates, still dominated the world. The era of Pax Americana was in full flower. America ruled the waves, dominated culture, was the leader in math and science and technology, research and development. In short, America was a benevolent, though hegemonic power.
There are countless millions of Chinese who remember the days of Mao; whose political futures were shaped by his policies; and who came of age in their shadow.
Now, the US faces a future every bit as bleak as that faced by the British Empire at the end of the Second World War. Great Britain then embraced the welfare state with open arms and watched as its’ world empire and its’ world leadership position dissolved before its’ very eyes into the benevolent, waiting arms of the United States.
That case will not be repeated today. If America’s grasp on world economic and political leadership slips away, it will not fall into benevolent hands. Once they have control of the reigns, The People’s Republic of China will not play nice. We already know that they will not play fair. And the world they will dominate will be the world that we have bequeathed to our children.
Shame on us. We have the means to make the 21st Century an American Century if we have the political will to make our country competitive again. It is a multi-pronged effort lead by two major forces: (1) restoring the economy and (2) controlling our spending. Sounds easy, right? But to listen to the incessant chatter about the social compact that our President keeps espousing and that the political class in Washington regurgitates, we are not making any in progress to heading off this drastic and dramatic rendezvous with destiny, we are simply kicking the can down the road to a post-2012 election environment, counting upon continued gridlock in Washington, taking the personal vilification of noble patriots such who dare to question the status quo of the American welfare state to the level of an art form, and squandering precious time in the pursuit of personal aggrandizement.
The People’s Republic of China can’t sleep: they are too excited about the prospect of taking over the world.
“Something’s burning somewhere. Does anybody care?” These are lyrics from the story-song folk writer, Harry Chapin. Our world is still spinning but it feels as if it is spinning upside down.
A funny thing happened to me on the way to a Tea Party event here in Worcester this week: I was called a racist. If one lives long enough, you are likely to be called a lot of things. Frankly, I am offended. A racist makes value judgments based solely upon irrelevant objective assessment such as the color of someone’s skin or their national origin. Objective logic does not play into the equation, only subjective emotion.
I was called a racist by a bunch of socialists. Now, I am not labeling them; they labeled themselves. There I was, bearing witness to our Constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech and assembly, when a group, some say a mob, of masked protestors invaded our peaceful assembly. I was being verbally assaulted by a group of knuckleheads wearing bandannas over their faces like masked banditos in a John Ford western. They called me a racist. They labeled me because I support Tea Party values.
Is this the face of protest; the face of point/counterpoint? I was not comfortable with the standoff. Visualize this: two opposing viewpoints separated not only by ideology but by four lanes of traffic. A colleague of mine wanted to go over and talk some sense into them; to try and convince them that we were righteous. I admit I was leery. I did not think we could make any headway with avowed socialists, so why bother. My friend was more persistent than I and so we crossed the street.
What I met on the other side was a group of students ranging in age from maybe16 to 25. I introduced myself to Joe and said, “I won’t raise my voice to you and I expect you will do the same.” And so, we talked. It was not much different than talking to my own adult children, really. And when I stripped away the rhetoric, I found a child who was as frightened about their future as was I.
It is an old adage that one need not hunt squirrels with a shotgun. That was what it was like to discuss tax burdens with someone who has never held a real job or owned property or had to worry about the future of their children. But Joe was not without his dreams; he was simply without options and without optimism that someone such as himself could live a life with opportunity. Joe said he had often heard Tea Party people talk about loosing freedoms and asked me to describe one freedom that we had lost. I told him that we- he- was in danger of losing one of the greatest freedoms of all: his freedom of choice; his freedom to have options. He heard me and seemed to seriously consider what I had said.
Harry Chapins’ lyrics went on to say:
“I shook his hand in the scene that made America famous; and he smiled from the heart that made America great. I spent the rest of that night in the home of a man that we’d never known before. It’s funny, when you get that close, it’s kind of hard to hate.”
Labels are a coward’s way out. Each of us is unique in our own personal circumstance and in our outlook. I chose to believe that. I also choose to believe that the majority of Americans, a vast majority, want similar things, for our children and for our country. We need fewer labels and less demagoguery. When we strip away the rhetoric, we will be left with the facts. We can and must do the right thing. I believe that we can.