One man’s past is another man’s present

The last two days I have heard things on the local NPR station which very clearly brought to my attention how things I consider to be very much The Past are still The Present for others.

The first was not a full story, but the lead for a story later on (which I didn’t hear). It was about politicians in some state running for office and in the sound clip one of the Republican candidates was railing against the evils of Socialism. The second was about a group of people of faith, Pastors for Peace, who go to Cuba in violation of and protest against the ban on travel. The reporter mentioned that there is legislation to try and soften the embargoes, but that an Anti-Communist lobby group is fighting to keep things as they are.

From a purely logical standpoint, I understand that the reasons behind the concerns. I know that the Baby Boomers and those before them, who make up a great deal of the “Powers That Be,” still carry the emotional weight of the Cold War. For me, however, that war is history, the past, something to be learned from, not something to be continued.

By the time I was born, the Cold War was tepid. I was in elementary school when the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR dissolved into countries I had no hope of spelling correctly. I never had to hunch under a desk in an Atomic Drill. My main understanding of the Cold War as a child was from the occasional joke in Mad Magazine and the fact that in tv shows and James Bond movies, the bad guys were always Russian. The closest thing I knew to Socialism was the New Deal, and where I came from that was mostly a good thing (people have mixed feelings about the TVA, but I always thought the Federal Writers Project was a great idea, and every county had at least one CCC Road). So, on a personal level, I don’t have much of an emotional reaction to Communism or Socialism.

As a historian, my training brought me to look at the situation from all sides. By the time my senior year high school history class studied the Cold War, some documents had been declassified. We didn’t approach the subject from a pro-US or pro-USSR attitude; that wasn’t the point. Our teacher showed us Dr. Strangelove after our AP and IB exams. In college I took courses on various revolutions in 20th century Latin America, 20th century Asian political history, and a class on youth in Russia since 1880 which included a CD of 1970s and 80s underground rock. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the 11 September 1973 coup in Chile, where a Socialist administration in a historically Democratic nation was overthrown by a totalitarian regime, and democracy itself became a victim for a time.

Yes, I am young, and have perhaps the arrogance of the young. There are, however, a sizable number of us young people who never experienced the Cold War in all its fury. I wonder if the speech writers and politicians realize that fear-mongering about Communists and Socialists sounds dated and old-person to a portion of the population. I wonder what outdated notions Generation X and the Millennials will be boring our children with in 30 year’s time.