An inward-looking people.
On the roots of American engagement in the world.
A testable proposition.
One of the mysteries to which I continually return is the riddle of how American society transformed itself, in roughly a five-year span, from a society very much conscious of war and a uniquely American leadership role, to a society that regarded itself exempt from the former and entitled to the latter. That transformation unfolded in roughly the period 1987 through 1992. At the beginning of the first year, nuclear war was still a low-grade public fear, and opposition to Communist expansion was still a policy common ground. At the end of the last year, the Presidential handoff from the Second World War generation to the Boomers was achieved, and how best to reduce the military was the new policy common ground.
The generational handoff is assumed to play a role. From January 1953 to January 1993, every single American President was a veteran of the Second World War. (Jimmy Carter is an edge case, as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy in the war’s latter years, but he gets full credit for volunteering in wartime.) That forty-year span is a tremendous era in American history, exceeding the domination of the Civil-War veteran Presidents: they only lasted in office from March 1869 through September 1901, interrupted by the two terms of Grover Cleveland, who hired a substitute to fight for him. It exceeds even the Presidential era of the Founders, from April 1789 through March 1825, of whom only the first and last — Washington and Monroe — were war veterans. By the time the last veteran of the Second World War left the Presidency, nearly one-fifth of the entire life of the republic had been entrusted to their stewardship.
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