In their 1997 bestseller, The Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe spoke of the cycles of history. The authors observed that every fourth generation “or turning” coincided with a period of intense conflict, and that that conflict often ended in a bloody resolution. Based upon their historical analysis, the authors believe we are at the beginning of an unraveling (They estimated the crisis would begin in 2005.). If the authors are correct in their belief that history follows a four generation cycle, this unraveling will be an event of no small magnitude. Previous fourth generation American unravellings include the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War II. This post briefly considers the author’s theory with respect to our involvement in Iraq.
Supposedly, as the Baby Boomers become the elder generation in American society, they will have a key role in instigating the coming crisis. The authors pose that a crisis will begin because threats that would have been previously ignored or deferred are now treated as dire.
Great worldly perils boil off the clutter and complexities of life, leaving behind one simple imperative: The society must prevail. This requires a solid public consensus, aggressive institutions, and personal sacrifice.
The authors characterize the elder generation that will lead during this crisis period as Prophets who see themselves as visionary gray champions. These visionary Prophets “push to resolve ever-deepening moral choices, setting the stage for the secular goals of the young.”
Arguably, the next unraveling has already begun. Cultural warfare in America has intensified, and America has divided itself divided itself into two warring camps with distinctly different world views and ideologies. Because of these ideological differences, America has had extreme difficulty gathering the will necessary to overcome our adversaries in Iraq. With respect to Iraq, both our political parties have significant ideological differences in the following areas:
- The threat posed by foreign powers
- The right of national self defense
- The primacy of democratic capitalism
The threat posed by foreign powers
On September 11, 2001, America received a rude surprise. We discovered that with sufficient dedication, planning, and resources, a small band of men could launch an attack and kill thousands of Americans. After considering the matter, President Bush decided that our war plans should include the option for preemptive self-defense. That is, if we had good reason to believe that an enemy might attack the United State, we would not wait until after the enemy had attacked us to respond. Instead we would preempt the enemy’s attack, but many objected vociferously, and they still do. In the latest bid to stifle President Bush’s policy on preemption, Sen. Robert C. Byrd has submitted a resolution. Here is what he says it does:
Today I am introducing a resolution that clearly states that it is Congress, not the President, that is vested with the ultimate decision on whether to take this country to war against another country. This resolution is a rejection of the bankrupt, dangerous, and unconstitutional doctrine of preemption, which proposes that the President may strike another country before it threatens us. This resolution returns our government to the inspired intent of the Framers of the Constitution, who so wisely placed the power to declare war in the hands of the elected representatives of the American people.
Curiously, the Bush Administration has never engaged in a preemptive attack. The attacks on both Afghanistan and Iraq were both authorized by Congress. Except for the fact the initial assaults were surprisingly successful, these attacks were no surprise to anybody. In fact there is little if any indication the Bush administration would engage in a preemptive attack without the clear need to do so.
Unfortunately, many Democrats seem to view President Bush as a greater enemy than any foreign power. What has got the Democrats in Congress so stirred up? The answer seems to be different priorities. Republicans seemed to be more concerned about security and otherwise keeping the government out of other people’s business. Democrats seemed to be more concerned about using government to fix domestic problems, and they have a hard time perceiving the foreign threats the Republicans see. So when Republicans spend money on defense instead of “domestic needs,” it rankles them. They reflexively regard such spending as wasteful and corrupt.
What remains astonishing, however, is the pronounced tendency of some on the left to give President Bush less respect than they accord the leaders of clearly corrupt foreign governments. Seemingly, it does not matter that President Bush accords Congress every respect and diligently follows every protocol. All that matters is that Bush could find no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (although the truth is that some were found).
The right of national self defense
There is a generous tendency by many in this nation to see the people of other nations as being much like ourselves. These people would not dream of attacking another country and presume others have the same attitude. Others think of America as being so powerful that they cannot imagine that any other nation would be so stupid as to attack us. Still others such as the Quakers, the Amish, and the Mennonites are pacifists. Because our tradition of religious freedom protect pacifists, the cause of pacifism has an organized political constituency. Thus, after a fashion and without any intended malice, pacifists bite the hand that feeds them.
Unfortunately, there are people in other countries who cannot view the world as Americans do. Their government controls the mass media. Because their government rigidly controls their schools, their children are taught what their government wants them to believe about us. They are taught we are the enemy (examples here, here, here and here).
Consider that al-Qa‘ida managed to get 19 men to ram three jets into two buildings, and the only reason the fourth jet did not reach its target is that the passengers stop it at the cost of their own lives. Prior to the September 11, 2001, Americans never seriously considered the likelihood of such a suicidal attack. We have been at peace too long.
The last war we experienced on our own soil was the Civil War. The scorched earth of the South is a distant memory, and few remember that Northern Virginia was once a land of freestanding chimneys. We all have trouble understanding events like the burning of Atlanta and Sherman’s march to the sea. Yet such punishment is what it took to cause the rebel South to surrender.
Now we have slowly begun to look back on the Greatest Generation with a mixture of respect and horror. The tales of World War II speak both of mighty accomplishments and unrelenting ferocity. To fight the Great War, America’s factories produced ships, planes, tanks, and arms of all kinds at prodigious rates. Then American soldiers destroyed the enemy’s armies. Before it was over, America had firebombed many enemy cities and turned two cities to rubble with nuclear bombs.
Each year, the Great War is remembered with greater shame. Why did America fight with such horrid ferocity? How could it? We have forgotten what it was like then and how the losses felt. I remember my mother telling me her first husband died crossing the Atlantic in a convoy. I felt a little of her pain, but the memory of that soldier died with her passing.
Two generations is long enough to be born, grow up, and fight a war. Two more generations is long enough to master the world, grow old, and fade away. Four generations is time enough to forget why a war was necessary.
The primacy of democratic capitalism
It is 2007. We remain in Iraq to help its people build a democratic capitalist state. In 2006, a little over 800 of our best died in Iraq serving their country. Some note the sectarian strife and say this is not our business. Others counter that democracies do not make war; we need to show the people of the Middle East that democracy can work for them too. Yet this argument is countered with the statement that democracy is not compatible with Islam. What is the truth?
The truth I think is that no one knows. Our American republic was established as and remains an experiment. Ours is a thoroughly human invention and experiment. Although the Founders asked for God’s grace and blessing, they never claimed God’s blessing on our choice of governance. Although many proclaim America is a Christian nation and that only a moral people can sustain our form of government, Christianity does not mandate democratic capitalism.
Islam is what it is, and it is for the people of Islam to decide what form of government is compatible with their religious beliefs. All we can do is decide what is right for us to do. When we invaded Iraq and conquered it, the fate of that land and its people became our responsibility. So we must make a choice, and we should do what we believe is right.
What we found when we took hold of Iraq was a People browbeaten and abused by decades of rule under a tyrannical totalitarian police state. Although eager for self government, the Iraqis have only a glimmering and a promise of what self-government entails. They know little of the compromises they must make with each other, and they find it terribly difficult to forgive those who served the old regime. Yet to ease our task, do we have any right to surrender them to the tender mercies of another Saddam Hussein?
In good conscious, I think we have no other choice except to complete the task we have started. We must recognize it will cost us, and we must endure. Decades have past since our soldiers arrived in Germany and Japan. Still there they remain. Decades have passed since South Korea became a democracy. Still our troops remain there too.
If we hold true to our convictions, our troops will remain Iraq until the job is done. How long? No one knows.
Do we truly have an alternative? What will it cost us to surrender Iraq? Will this “generosity” pacify the threat?
Consider that World War II began with appeasement. Our forbears did not look for threats or enemies. Their enemies sought them. Their enemies said what they would do, and when they detected weakness and lack of resolve, those enemies acted.
We have heard our enemies speak. Do unravellings begin when good men act upon their convictions or when they act in fear? That is something I fear this generation is soon to learn.