Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A four generation perspective on living in the United States

I am now living into my fourth generation. When I was born in 1931, Herbert Hoover was still President of the United States.  I grew up in New York City during the Great Depression when a subway ride or a hot dog at Nedick’s was five cents. During World War II in public school I collected tin foil, rubber bands, and newspapers for the war effort. My second generation began with the birth of the United Nations and the start of the Cold War. It led in turn to a wave of hysteria about Communist influence on American life.  The witch hunt for current and former Communists made me nervous.  My oldest brother quit the Communist Party when the Lysenko Controversy erupted. As an undergraduate at NYU, I associated with fellow students of the Beat Generation. I left New York for Indiana University and learned to be a geneticist. Some of my high school classmates were killed in the Korean War. My second generation came to a close at UCLA where I witnessed the first Peace Corps volunteers and students who registered African American voters in Mississippi.  Our children formed the Baby Boom generation. The 60’s were transforming and I shifted my emphasis to teaching non-majors biology courses. My third generation was mostly lived while teaching at Stony Brook University on Long Island in New York State. It was an age of greed, the pursuit of wealth, the tearing down of the New Deal that Presidents Roosevelt and Johnson had built. We became the world’s policeman or bully depending on your politics. We became a nation of winners and losers, makers and takers, patriots or subversives.  There was no middle ground and the middle class was disappearing.  My fourth generation began as we entered the twenty-first century.  I retired. I shifted to full time writing.  We moved to Indiana to enjoy its university setting and opportunities to enjoy its theater, libraries, music performances, and ease of access and cost. After 9/11 and the endless wars of a nation engorged with armaments waiting to be used, we are still trying to define ourselves.  We can smash armies that are well armed but we are stymied by terrorists, guerrillas who melt into the jungles, and an amorphous enemy of uncertain size, location, and objectives, partly created by our own failed international policies which reflect our own domestic shift towards a plutocracy dictating legislation favoring the wealthy. The two iconic images of these four generations are the bombing of Pearl Harbor that inspired what some call “the greatest generation” in our fight against fascism and 9/11 which sadly inspired fear, lashing out at the wrong enemies, the loss of privacy, the shift to the perpetual military state, the crushing of labor unions, the demeaning of liberals, the rejection of science, and a contempt for teachers and scholars.  

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