Near & far

Will there be a baby boom when the Culture Wars are over? Or will there be none because they never end? The thought occurred to me while reading that, with a wink to our Holy Father, their government has instructed the Poles to, quote, “Breed like rabbits.”

The virtue of your old-fashioned, apocalyptically violent war, is that it does, eventually, end. The world, which is to say, both sides, are devastated; but one, a little more than the other, is finally willing to call it quits. There is always a surrender, even if it doesn’t come from the last bunker. Some are still alive on the ground, and even if they are just civilians, they make their capitulation known. Life again stirs from under the rubble.

Thanks to their après-guerre deregulation, the West Germans recovered much faster than, well, Labour-governed Britain; and frankly capitalist “economic miracles” similar to the German happened in Italy and France. Western Europe rebounded from six years of unprecedented physical destruction, in more-or-less six years. People wanted to laugh again. Secretly they had wanted to live, even while the bombs were falling, but now the boys were home, and the girls were having babies.

Our flickering cultural memory of “the ’fifties” (beginning 1945) is of some brief moment when happiness prevailed. There was broad consensus on such topics as, 1. which way is Up and, 2. which way is Down. The churches were fuller than they had been for a long time; food was plentiful and cheap (except in England); and anyone who wanted one had a job. The lights had come on again, all over the world, and there were movies, and soda fountains, and avante-garde in Paris and New York. (London a bit grim, perhaps.) …. I was myself born into those halcyon days.

Now, from our present vantage we may deny all this. Yes, it was a time when “father knew best,” and the young were not all juvenile delinquents. Dead white males were in each college course, and the colleges themselves were vastly expanding, in the naïve belief that knowledge is a cure. The “counter-culture” was confined to a few jolly beatniks. Communists and perverts had to hide in the closet. Let me not go on: repression was everywhere! … (How I miss repression.)

On the plus side, the War was over. And people (if we overlook those in Britain) “never had it so good.” From all those births, the planet seemed young again, and the future positively rosy.

We still wear the plastic poppies for Armistice Day. We still acknowledge sacrifices made. The men and women who made the sacrifices are now mostly dead — the Western world has grown much older — but the belief that sacrifices were once made lingers as a cultural relic. Curiously, it is the time after the war that has sunk deeper down the memory hole.

A few oldies have said, “We need another War.” Yet it seems to me that we have one.