EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – SEPTEMBER 2, 2009
By Rich Trzupek
The “good old days” is a term of art, often employed, perhaps even more often in the troubled times in which we live. One must wonder, however, was there ever such a time? History is often viewed through rose colored glasses, and all the more so when one has put a few dozen or more orbits of the sun in between birthdays.
It’s worthwhile to look back now and again, a reality check if you will, and fifty years is the sort of milestone that can prompt a bit of retrospective. How far have we come? How far have we fallen?
Certainly there were aspects of life in 1959 that we would not wish to see again. The cloud of a global nuclear threat loomed heavily on the horizon, for one. Children were taught to “duck and cover”, though it was not difficult to see that sheltering under one’s desk offered dubious protection against a mushroom cloud.
Civil defense shelters, often nothing more than a subway tunnel or the basement of a nearby park fieldhouse, were ubiquitous parts of the landscape, clearly identified with large black and yellow signs that never let you forget that the big one could be just over the horizon.
Hundreds of millions more people lived under the thumb of repressive communist regimes than do today and the very real threat that communism would consume the western democracies was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The Reds were winning the space race after all. What else might they be capable of?
It is still a dangerous world in 2009 of course, but the specter of global annihilation at the touch of button is not something most people spend a lot of time worrying about anymore. That is both good and bad, I suppose. Not living in that state of fear allows us the opportunity to accomplish more with our lives, and certainly lessens the average antacid bill. Yet, on the other hand, the more shadowy threats that face us today are dismissed with a wave of the hand by a great many people. Hell, our enemies don’t have nukes, right? What’s to worry about? It’s almost as if, having been vigilant in that stressful fight for existence for so long, the western world breathed a great sigh of relief once the Cold War was over and hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob of the democracies.
Health care was a whole lot more affordable in 1959, which was nice, but also a whole lot less effective, which was not. In 1959, a diagnosis of cancer was most often a death sentence, whereas in 2009, it can quite often be managed. Drugs to effectively control diabetes, depression and host of other diseases either did not exist or were terribly inefficient. Heart transplants and surgeries to scrub clogged arteries – so common today – did not exist in 1959. We live longer than ever today, due in no small part to all of those remarkable advances in medical science that so many of us take for granted.
The planet was much more polluted in 1959 than it is today, and it would get worse before it would finally get better. I recall, quite clearly, the film of dust that would appear on my father’s car overnight, should he leave it parked outside. That dust came from the steel mills and power plants that ringed our far south side neighborhood, furnaces and boilers that ran without any of the environmental controls now required, belching out great black plumes of smoke that smudged the sky.
Yet, there were aspects of those old days that were truly good. One could, and most would, leave their car and home doors unlocked. The chances of someone breaking into your home were unimaginably small, and the respect that neighbors had for each other was sacrosanct. If the world was a big bad place, your neighborhood was a comfortable refuge. It’s still like that is some part of small town and rural America, but those days are gone forever in our great metropolitan centers.
Dwight David Eisenhower was President back then, dismissed as a genial boob, a “do nothing” executive, by the intelligentsia, which seems an odd label to hang on the man that planned and executed the invasion of Fortress Europa, but this has ever been part of the left’s playbook, who figure that there is nothing that government should not do. History has been more kind to Ike, with a great many historians rating him in the top ten of American Presidents, for the man used his power wisely, not wantonly.
And there is one incident during Ike’s Presidency that serves as an example of how much our world had changed. When he was inaugurated into his second term in office, in 1953, Eisenhower used a Bible that had belonged to George Washington as part of the ceremony. He had it opened to a passage that he was particularly fond of: II Chronicles 7:14.
That passage reads: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Perhaps that’s a symbol of the difference between 1959 and 2009. Would any American President dare express such a sentiment today? Would the average American take heed if the President was so bold? It’s hard to imagine.
But it was a different time and, at times, it almost seems like it was a different place.