A few years ago, I became a septuagenarian. I survived and thrived for eight decades having been born in the late 1940s. A lot of challenging things have happened during my life, personally, to America and to the world. I hastened to point out that my experiences have been a dream come true in almost every regard. But it wasn’t always easy. I was dramatically affected by domestic and global events. I want to document some of those events that continue to be vivid in my mind, even while I was having a productive and wholesome life.
The earliest recollection I have is the polio epidemic in the 1950s. I remember standing in line waiting to receive a vaccination, when I was a very young boy. I didn’t think twice about it, nor did I stress out over the event. In any case, it was far less of an ordeal than the COVID vaccine response taking place as I write this essay.
A truly bizarre experience embedded in my memory is practicing for a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. In addition to fire drills at school, students were told crawl under our desks in the event of an attack. Really? Hiding under a desk would provide little protection from an atomic bomb or its radioactive fallout. Peter Sellers dramatized this in his memorable movie “Doctor Strangelove.”
The next recollection was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was young and really didn’t appreciate that the leader of our country with so much potential was murdered by a crazed psychopath. But the memories of the event dragged on for some time, and I was enveloped in the emotion of the loss of such a great man. Film clips of the funeral and of the Kennedy family are etched in my mind. Coincidently, one of my sons went to high school with Caroline Kennedy’s son. That also brought back the horror of the senseless act.
The murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. was another seismic event. He was the soul of the civil rights movement in the country during the final years of his life. I was young but was able to grasp the importance of such a dastardly deed. King had had a meaningful effect on all true Americans who want equality.
The Vietnam War, in the late 60s, was in full gear while I attended college. It had a great impact on young men at the time resulting in a “live for today” philosophy. That, in turn, led to excessive alcohol consumption and the use of drugs. I remember my senior year in college was a time to live and party hard. I expected I would be going to Vietnam where I would likely be killed. This was one of the darkest times in my life. In retrospect it’s hard to imagine that 50,000 Americans lost their lives during the war. For what? To make matters worse, I was in the first draft lottery. It was the only lottery I ever won! My number was 59 out of 365, guaranteeing that I would get drafted if I didn’t find another path.
The Civil Rights Movement was monumental. Originally led by Martin Luther King, Jr., black leaders marched and protested against unfair conditions in America years after slavery ended. It had to take happen. The movement needed to be kick started. True emancipation of people of color was being stalled by pervasive bigotry. Black efforts were the beginning of a long journey. One of the most noteworthy things about the protest at that time was that it was peaceful, at least for the protesters. The authorities took very strong and cruel measures to quell protesters. It’s a different situation in recent years. The Black movement has had a great impact on all Americans. Hopefully, it will result in more equality in the near future.
The oil crisis in the mid 70s was a horrendous event. OPEC countries intentionally decreased production and delivery of oil to the free world. The ultimate result was that we lined up for hours trying to buy gas for our cars, if any was available. It was almost like a scene from a science fiction nightmare. Severe shortages changed our lives dramatically for several months and was the main reason our nation was inspired to become energy self-sufficient.
As a financial officer of a few companies, I was on hand to experience what it was like to borrow money for short periods of time at rates over 17% in the early 1980s. Our country needs reliable sources of capital to survive, as do individual consumers. All hell broke out as our monetary system could not meet the needs of borrowers. This period still influences monetary and fiscal policy in our nation 50 years later.
Associated with higher rates were inflation pressures on Americans and the whole world. Economic conditions were such that the cost of everything we bought skyrocketed, while our wages were falling behind. One day a dollar bought $1 of goods and services. The next day, $1 bought 80 cents worth of goods and services. The US was like a third world country with hyperinflation.
One of the most insulting events in American history was the Iran hostage crisis in 1970. Religious zealots had taken over the government of Iran from the Shah. The ayatollahs ordered an assault on the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 hostages. Jimmy Carter was president and was responsible, and incapable, of arranging the release of the Americans. This is a stain on American history to have a backwards third world country bring the mighty US to its knees. Ronald Reagan won the presidential election and threatened to invade Iran after he was inaugurated. The hostages were released just before the inauguration ceremony.
The downfall of the Soviet Union encouraged by Reagan was a great victory for the world. The hostile attitude of our greatest enemy was tempered for many years and set the stage for a reshuffling of power in Europe. No longer would the world be on the edge of a nuclear holocaust. The two biggest nuclear powers would disarm to some extent, a greater moment for mankind.
Israel and Palestine are destined to be at odds for the foreseeable future. Little progress has been made since Israel became a nation decades ago. Religion, politics and cultural differences are at the core of continuing conflict. Repeated efforts to move forward have been thwarted time and again.
The Iraq wars were unfortunate and resulted in US loss of lives and fortune. Also, they set off other hot spots in the Middle East. In the first Iraq war, the US halted Iraq aggression towards Kuwait with virtually no loss of American lives. But the first George Bush stopped at Iraq’s border leaving Saddam Hussein in power. The second war was an all-out assault on Iraq by the second George Bush in an effort to neutralize Iraqi armed forces and to root out alleged weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the Iraqis. The later of these was never proven. US troops were destined to occupy Iraq for many years.
The turmoil in the Middle East influenced the rise of many terrorist organizations. The most dangerous group has been al Qaeda, which grew to power in Afghanistan and surrounding areas. The group along with its leader, Osama bin Laden, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, which set off a decade of fighting in Afghanistan. Terrorists relish political turmoil. They could find no better place to organize than in Afghanistan, an untamed wilderness. The fallout from the 9/11 attacks is one of our country’s worse nightmares.
This brings us to the current day. Where is the US? We are struggling to regain our global leadership with two of the most ineffective presidents ever. America is still the greatest power in the world, but China wants to compete for domination.
Our domestic political arena is in chaos. Neither party has the votes to make decisive positive changes in many aspects of our society. Defense, the economy, immigration, civil rights, the police, relations with other countries, education, climate change are all stagnant because our leaders forgot how to compromise.
The world continues to be a dangerous place. I hope and pray for more peaceful times in the future.