Friday, November 21, 2003

Some Observations: NPR's "All Things Considered" had a segment last night on the TV film The Day After, which -- I'm sure you recall -- was broadcast 20 years ago this year. That film, the darling of the unilateral disarmament crowd, scared me to pieces. So NPR talks to some people who had been involved in the movie, and not one of them says, "Gee, you know, things worked out pretty goddamn well; no matter how gratuitously we hyped the nuclear threat, I'm kind of glad we didn't disarm." Well I'm glad we didn't. I remember all that "Reagan wants to blow up the world" and "He's a warmonger" stuff -- "He can't be trusted with 'the button'" was another big one. And I look at the kind of vitriol Bush is getting in Europe now (and here, too). I'm not going to trust the pricks who were wrong last time (and can't admit it).

In another anniversary event, John Kennedy was killed 40 years ago tomorrow. I never thought about it from my parents' perspective, even living in Dallas, hearing them talk about Love Field, Dealey Plaza. These were real places, places that still existed and that you might drive to. Imagine what it will mean for this generation to live in New York and talk about the World Trade Center. For my parents, a couple of "New Frontier" Democrats living in Dallas less than 20 years after the assassination, this was the scene of their 9/11. Dealey Plaza was the World Trade Center for their generation, the place where the unthinkable happened. A part of them will always be there, just as a part of me will always be looking out from Windows on the World, in the North Tower -- the best address in the world: 1 World Trade Center.

Finally, I've just finished Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. It's no scholarly tome, but that's a good thing. The book is, like Franklin, a little breezy and informal, not concerned with putting on airs, but certainly not superficial. We don't hear about who sat in which chair at the Franklin family table when Ben was young -- accompanied by some ridiculous theoryabout the sense of superiority or inferiority or whatever that this gave the subject of the book. We see what Franklin does, we read a bit of what he writes. If Isaacson's conclusions and themes seem a touch plain or pedestrian, perhaps it's for the best; Franklin liked nothing more than being a bit pedestrian himself, admonishing his children to take pride in their middle-class family, to avoid aping the aristocracy. America, he thought, would be successful as a middle-class country, blending industry with frugality, simple hard work with inventive entrepreneurship, and a niggardly state with a generous people. He was, on the whole, correct.

No comments: