|Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's|
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These pages contain the complete manuscript of the new book
Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny,
written by John J. Xenakis.
This text is fully copyrighted. You may copy or print out this
material for your own use, but not for distribution to others.
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Countries go to war all the time, but there are certain wars that are more crucial than others. These are the wars where most of the people feel that their country's existence is at stake, or at least that their way of life is at stake. We call these "crisis wars." The difference between crisis wars and other wars is measured both viscerally and by actions.
America's last crisis war was World War II. Remember how the entire country was traumatized by the attacks of 9/11/2001? There were numerous articles about how children across the country were frightened that similar acts of terror would occur in their cities.
The same was true in WW II. People were terrified during WW II. Americans watched Hitler's armies overrun France, bomb England, and threaten the Atlantic sea-lanes. They had citizen's watches on both coasts with telescopes looking out for incoming bombers. In fact, the west coast actually was bombed -- Japan put thousands of bombs onto balloons, and sent them into the atmosphere, and about a thousand of them did reach America. These actions were psychologically effective in terrorizing Americans. And let's not forget the effects of the Depression, which caused massive homelessness and added to the feeling of terror at the war.
By the end of WW II, the American population's anger and even desire for revenge was palpable, especially because of news reports of Japanese' brutal treatment of American prisoners, including torture and beatings. Those emotions were captured and conveyed perfectly by President Harry Truman, in his famous speech on August 9, 1945, shortly after destroying the city of Hiroshima with an atomic bomb: "Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us."
There have been numerous wars since then, the major ones being the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the 1991 Gulf War. But none of these wars terrorized and infuriated the American public the way World War II did. Nobody feared that the Vietnamese would endanger the American way of life, for example.
Furthermore, none of these wars ever had the massive public support that World War II did. Few if any Americans ever questioned the need to send troops to fight Hitler. Today, Tom Brokaw and other call the soldiers who fought in World War II the "greatest generation" of the twentieth century.
In the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars, however, many in the public questioned the need for war. Especially during the Vietnam War there was a large, vocal, powerful pacifist (antiwar) movement. In the Gulf War, once we expelled the Iraqis from Kuwait, President Bush bowed to public pressure to bring the troops home without pursuing Saddam Hussein.
|It's only today that Americans feel terrorized and infuriated again, as they were in World War II|
It's only today that Americans feel terrorized and infuriated again, as they were in World War II. Americans across the country were traumatized by the attacks of 9/11. Only a very small percentage of the American population opposed the war in Afghanistan or the 2003 war in Iraq. There is a small pacifist movement, but it's almost completely ineffective.
Generational Dynamics is based on the observation that although a society or nation may go to war often, these crisis wars, wars that create a visceral feeling of anxiety, terror and fury throughout the population, occur only occasionally. In particular, a crisis war occurs only when the generation of people who lived through the terror and anxiety of the last crisis war retire or die.
This results in a cycle of crisis wars: Since the human lifetime is about 80 years, crisis wars tend to occur every 70-90 years in any society or nation. This chapter presents some basics to show how nations go from one major crisis war to another in roughly 80-year cycles. The number of years is approximate; it's usually 70-85 years, but some cycles run as little as 60 years or as many as 100 years.
This is not a cyclical view of history in the way that Arnold Toynbee and other historians have tried (and failed) to develop, since the cycles do not apply to the entire world, or entire Western world. Generational Dynamics cycles apply only to local regions and nations -- as we'll describe in detail in the Chapters 3 and 4 on the Principle of Localization. This makes sense because the visceral feelings of terror and anxiety are local to a particular nation or society.
This chapter illustrates the basic concepts with two examples:
Nations and societies go through two types of wars. Each cycle begins and ends with a major war called a "crisis war," a war that traumatizes and transforms the nation. In between crisis wars there may be many "mid-cycle wars," wars in which soldiers die, but otherwise do not transform societies in a major way.
The adjoining diagram illustrates the difference. A cycle begins and ends with a crisis war, separated by a mid-cycle period. Wars that occur in the mid-cycle period are (naturally) mid-cycle wars.
This chapter provides the basics of Generational Dynamics. Later chapters contain a fuller exposition of the theory, as well as dozens of historical examples illustrating the theory.
George Santayana's famous remark, quoted at the beginning of this chapter, states an eternal truth about human beings: humans make the same mistakes over and over throughout history, since they don't remember the past.
In particular, people rarely know much about history before they were born, except for a few basic facts that "everybody" knows.
|The 1960s generation gap was not only not unique in history, it's actually quite common|
For example, do you know who controlled Korea during the first half of the 20th century, and why that's crucially important today? Very few Americans have the vaguest idea. (The answer is given elsewhere in this book, at the appropriate place in the text.)
Here's another example, a true/false question: Hitler caused World War II, and if we had killed Hitler in 1935, we could have saved millions of lives. True or false?
Most people would say that's true, forgetting that America wasn't even attacked by Hitler's Germany. We were first attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. Hitler never had anything to do with that.
Another question: The Civil War broke out when Abraham Lincoln tried to free the slaves. True or false?
Once again, most people would say it's true. In fact, Lincoln never intended to end slavery, and only issued the Emancipation Proclamation under political pressure two years after the Civil War began.
So, what were the causes of the Civil War and World War II? Those are the kinds of questions that this book will answer.
We're going to show that major wars happen in their time. Briefly, a major war almost always ends in some compromises, and this creates (or perpetuates) what we call a fault line between two groups or nations. A new major war breaks out 70-90 years later over the same fault line. Briefly, the Revolutionary War created a fault line between the North and the South, leading eventually to a Civil War. And the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 perpetuated a fault line between France and Germany, leading to World War II.
Why did the Civil War break out in 1861, instead of 1830 or 1890? These issues were always there, so what was special about that particular time? We'll show you.
Readers who are old enough to remember America in the 1960s and 1970s will be familiar with the phrase "generation gap," which filled thousands of media stories for a decade. It was explained that, for the first time in history, young people were not only not showing respect for their elders, but were actually rebelling against their elders. The explanation was that the Vietnam War was causing this attitude, resulting in the "antiwar movement," the "environmental movement," the "women's lib movement," the "anti-racism movement," and so forth.
Actually, the 1960s generation gap was not only not unique in history, it's actually quite common: It's called an "awakening," and it always happens in every society and nation in every 80-year cycle, midway between two crisis wars.
However, let's dwell on the 1960s for a moment, because the generation gap at that time was truly enormous, as I can illustrate from a few personal anecdotes.
The reason for the generation gap was not the Vietnam War; actually, the generation gap was caused by the Great Depression and World War II. People who lived through that period of horror had very different views of life than those who, like me, were born afterwards.
For example, when my own mother fell ill in 1995, and I was forced to take care of her finances, I was utterly astounded by what I found. She lived on almost nothing. She paid rent for a decent apartment, she paid the electric and phone bills, and she subscribed to TV Guide, and that was about it for her regular expenses. Her Depression-era experiences caused her to count every penny as if it were her last. No one born after 1940 would ever live like that -- although we may have to learn to as the next few years progress.
I tell this anecdote to emphasize how different people like me, born after 1940, from people who actually lived through the last crisis.
Here's another personal anecdote:
When I was in high school in the 1950s, I wrote a report on political third parties, and I sent away for literature from a whole bunch of them -- the Greenback Party, the Prohibition Party, the Socialist Party, and a few others I can't remember. The material was quite hilarious, as I recall, especially the Greenback Party literature that contained a little song about how we should have greenbacks everywhere.
Well, at some point, my father discovered that I had this literature, and he was very concerned. Although he never shouted at me, I could tell that he was very upset. He reminded me that he was an immigrant working for the government in Fort Monmouth, N.J., and that if it became known that his son was in possession of third party literature, he might lose his job. I promised him I would never do it again, but that isn't the end of the story.
A couple of years later, after my freshman year in college, he got me a summer job at his office at Fort Monmouth doing computer work. When I went in for the interview, he cautioned me to confess that I had ordered this literature -- in case they already knew -- so that there wouldn't be a problem.
I remember thinking how nuts this was -- no one could possibly care that I'd sent away for some literature that I didn't even care about except to write a school report, but I did as my father asked, fully expecting the interviewer to simply laugh at the whole thing.
Well, that's not quite what happened. I told the interviewer that I'd ordered this literature, and I wanted him to know. The interviewer looked at me sternly and asked me what it was for. I told him. He asked me a few more questions to make sure that I hadn't completely sold out to the Communists, and then said, "Well, it's OK, as long as you realize your mistake and won't do it again." I agreed, and happily, this bizarre moment ended, we changed the subject and I got the job.
Almost everyone who grew up in the 50s can recount similar stories. Today, looking back, we can only marvel at how enormously our attitudes and world views differ from those who were born earlier.
It's very important to appreciate the enormity of these differences, because in that way can we understand the forces that are leading us to a world war today.
Those of us who were born after 1940 have no personal memory of any of this. We grew up in the 1950s, at a time when the country was celebrating its victories. America had beaten the depression, and American had beaten the Nazis.
To us, the horrors of that period were only a vague story out that our parents bored us with. So what if an uncle died on the beach at Normandy, or if a cousin practically starved to death during the Depression? Doesn't that happen all the time to people in other parts of the world anyway?
We didn't feel any horror. We felt only the exhilaration. We'd beaten the Depression and the Nazis and, to us, not only did we win, but we even won easily and effortlessly, and there really was never any other possible outcome. We won because we were always going to win, and in case another foe comes along, we won't have any trouble winning over them also.
By contrast, our parents lived in constant fear of a new Great Depression, and a new World War (this time with the Communists, rather than the Nazis).
The point is that these generation gaps always happen -- in the midst of every 80-year cycle. There is always a generation gap between the people of the older generation who lived through the last crisis war (and who fear that it will happen again at any time) and the younger generation born after the last crisis war.
We use the phrase "fault line" as a convenient term to describe the "line" separating two warring groups. We put the word "line" in quotes, because the line is partially imaginary (like the "line" between Catholics and Protestants) and partially physical (like the "line" between France and Germany in World War II).
We use the term "identity groups" to describe the two warring groups, the two groups that are separated by the fault line. Identity groups go beyond geography. For example, there's a fault line today between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the Mideast, and it corresponds roughly to the geographical border of Israel.
However, Arabs and Muslims around the world identify with the Palestinians in the Mideast, and Jews (and many Christians) around the world identify with the Israelis. Thus, there are two identity groups -- Palestinians plus Arabs and Muslims around the world, and Israelis plus Jews and Christians around the world -- and the fault line separating the two identity groups is partially geographical and partially religious.
Generational Dynamics recognizes two kinds of societal conflicts: conflicts across generational lines, and conflicts across fault lines.
Most people understand fault line conflicts, because they result in real wars. But few people understand generational conflicts because their memories don't go back far enough to understand the generational cycle.
Spend a minute examining this diagram, which illustrates both fault lines and generational lines. In this diagram,
In the diagram, notice that the fault line is illustrated as a solid line on the bottom, and as a dotted line at the top. This is done to illustrate the fact that, even across fault lines, the older generations have much more agreement than the younger generations.
Even if the people in the older generations of two different identity groups "hate" each other, they still have a great deal in common, as a result of having fought a brutal, violent, bloody war with each other. The people in the older generations are more "pragmatic," more willing to compromise, to avoid a renewal of hostilities. And if a new mid-cycle war does break out, the people in the older generations limit the violence, since they know each other, and may even have signed a peace agreement together. The people in the younger generation have no such history, and are more idealistic, are more certain of "what's right," and less willing to compromise.
As illustrated in the adjoining diagram, there are roughly 60 years in the mid-cycle period from the end of a crisis war to the beginning of the next crisis period. We break up this 60-year period into three smaller periods, each roughly 20 years long. These three smaller periods are given the names "austerity" (Strauss and Howe call this a "high" period), "awakening," and "unraveling," respectively.
These names are given for the following reasons:
In America, the generation of kids born after the last crisis are called "Baby Boomers." In Germany, this same generation was called the "68ers." This is an important generation, because first it leads the awakening period and then, 40 years later, it leads the nation into the next crisis war.
Finally, the unraveling period ends when the generation of kids who grew up during the last crisis war all retire or die, leaving in charge the generation born after the last crisis war -- the same generation that rioted and demonstrated during the awakening period.
The adjoining diagram illustrates America in 1810, 20 years after George Washington had taken office for the first time as President.
At this time, the fault line between the Northern and Southern states was just beginning to form. The elders in both the North and the South were actually in agreement about the slavery issue -- they both viewed slavery as a necessary evil -- necessary to preserve the union.
Now let's move ahead 20 years. The next diagram shows a nation well into the "awakening" period. By this time, the lines of conflict are becoming more sharply drawn -- both the North/South fault lines, and the generational lines.
There are three distinct and recognizable groups:
In 1850, America was into the unraveling period. If you compare this diagram to the preceding one, you see that there are far more Abolitionists and Secessionists, and far fewer Unionists. However, the Unionists are still running the nation, since they're the elder statesmen, politicians, journalists and teachers.
The final diagram shows America in 1861, when the Civil War started. At this point, anyone who actually lived through the Revolutionary War was likely to be too old to exert any real influence.
Distinguish between two separate things: The cause of the war versus the timing of the war.
As we study history, we see the following time after time: A crisis war occurs, and ends only when austere compromises are forced on the participants. No one is really happy with the compromises, but no one wants another war either. The compromises finally unravel, and that's the cause of the next crisis war. The timing of the next crisis war is determined by the timing of when the compromises unravel, and that happens when the final generational change occurs.
Let's now look at an example that concerns all our lives today: The Arab / Jewish fault line in the Mideast.
The Arabs' and Jews' last crisis war occurred from 1936-1949. It started in 1936 as low-intensity violence (riots, demonstrations, rock-throwing, etc.), and became full-scale war in 1948 after the creation of the state of Israel. The war ended in 1949 when compromise was forced on both sides.
The adjoining diagram illustrates the Mideast shortly before the end of the last Arab/Jewish Mideast crisis war. At that point, there was no generation gap one either side. Both sides were fighting for survival, and were unwilling to make any compromise or respect any rules of war.
The next diagram shows the same population shortly after the end of the same war. At that point, peace had been imposed. There was still no generation gap, but both sides had accepted the imposed peace.
Now we move ahead to the 1967 mid-cycle Mideast war. At this point, the generation gap was forming. This war was lower in intensity than the wars of the late 1940s, largely because the aging Arab and Jewish warriors were not anxious to repeat the terror of the 1940s.
The final diagram shows the Mideast during the decade of the 2000s. The Arab and Jewish warriors from the last crisis war (especially Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat) are in their 70s. A new Mideast crisis war is expected within a couple of years after the generation of aging warriors retires or dies. This could happen at any time, but my expectation is that it will be signaled by the disappearance of Yasser Arafat from the scene.
What have been the fault lines that America has faced since World War II? Several have come and gone, and it's interesting to review the list:
These examples illustrate how fault lines change and redefine themselves with time. Some fault lines last from cycle to cycle (like the fault line between France and Germany for centuries), and others appear and disappear quickly, depending on circumstances.
This is actually a trick question. While the answer to "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" is "Grant," the answer to "How long is an 80-year cycle?" is: "It depends."
The basic cycle is shown in the adjoining diagram -- with a 60-year mid-cycle period separating two 20-year crisis periods, meaning that it's 80 years from the beginning of one crisis to the beginning of the next.
The reason it's 80 years is because that's the length of a human lifetime. The 60-year mid-cycle period permits enough generations of people to come and go so that the lessons of the last crisis war are forgotten, and a new one can start.
This is the question that's asked most often, and interestingly enough, the answer is pretty much "No!" That's because we're talking about maximum lifespans, not average lifespans.
80 years appears to be an almost immutable constant. It's true that the average lifetime has increased (because of reduced infant mortality, for example), but the maximum life span seems to have been relatively constant throughout history. For example, during the Golden Age of Greece, Pericles lived 66 years, and Aristides lived 72 years -- not quite 80 years, but close enough to make the point.
There are always a few people in each generation who live to be 70-80, and those are the elders who remember the last crisis, and who protect everyone by counseling caution and compromise. It's when the elders of that generation die that society loses all their wisdom at once, and the new crisis begins.
One of the important reasons that cycle lengths vary is that two separate regions, on separate timelines for centuries, have a war with each other. There are several possible outcomes, but one possibility is that their timelines will merge.
This diagram is a typical situation. It shows the timelines of two separate regions or countries. Each has its crisis wars at regular intervals, but as long as they don't fight each other, they stay on separate timelines.
However, suppose that the two countries finally have a crisis war with each other. This is what happened, for example, in the 1600s. France and Germany had never had a major crisis war with each other, and were on separate timelines 20 years apart. But they fought each other in the Thirty Years' War that ran from 1618 to 1648.
This diagram shows what can happen, and what did happen in the Thirty Years' War. Normally, a crisis war runs about 5 to 15 years long, but the Thirty Years' War began as a German civil war, and continued against France for an additional decade.
In the case of France and Germany, this pretty much synchronized their timelines for centuries to come. The next crisis war was the War of Spanish Succession, in which they fought each other from 1701 to 1714.
This is only one of many possibilities that occur when two nations on different timelines have crisis wars with each other. In many cases, both countries remain on their separate timelines. This is what happened in the Vietnam War, for example, which was a crisis war for the Vietnamese but a mid-cycle war for America. Other possibilities will be illustrated throughout this book.
Everyone knows that Thomas Edison invented the incandescent bulb in 1879. Suppose that Thomas Edison had never been born. Does that mean we would still be using candles today instead of light bulbs?
The answer is no: If Edison hadn't invented the incandescent bulb, then someone else would have invented it shortly thereafter. There were several other inventors working on the same problem at the same time, and one of the others would have gotten the patent if Edison hadn't. One of the others, Joseph Swan, actually invented an improved light bulb, with the result that Edison and Swan went into partnership together.
The point is that the electric light bulb was invented at exactly the right time. It was exactly at that time that the "ingredients" for the light bulb were available -- the right kind of electrical current, the right kind of filament, the right kind of container, and so forth. The light bulb couldn't have been invented earlier, because the "ingredients" weren't yet available; it wouldn't have invented later, because once the "ingredients" were available, somebody would have invented the light bulb. Edison got there first.
Here's another question: Suppose Martin Luther King had never been born. Does that mean that the civil rights laws would never have passed?
Once again, we can say with certainty that other black leaders would have led the fight at that time. This time, the "ingredients" were a new Baby Boomer generation that was increasingly impatient with their parents' insistence on discriminatory laws, the same generation that created the antiwar movement, the environmental movement, the women's lib movement, and so forth. Martin Luther King came along at just the right time to take advantage of this new generation, and if he'd never been born, someone else would have done the same.
|It's actually mathematically provable that wars are necessary.|
Thomas Edison and Martin Luther King were agents or catalysts for events that were going to occur anyway at about the same time. By this, I mean absolutely no disrespect for either Edison or King. I'm simply saying that there were many contemporaries of each man who would have stepped to the plate and done the job at about the same time if Edison and King, respectively, had never been born.
Many people have difficulty believing this. They believe that Thomas Edison, personally, was necessary for the invention of the light bulb, and Martin Luther King, personally, was necessary for the passage of civil rights laws.
Those are the people who will have difficulty understanding this book. They will not believe that the Civil War would have occurred without Abraham Lincoln, or that World War II would have occurred without Hitler. These people do not understand why wars are necessary and inevitable. These people have not learned the lessons of history. If you're one of these people, you might want to give this book to someone else.
Pick any day of any year in the last century, and the chances are that 20-40 wars were going on in the world on that day.
Now, if there are that many wars going on all the time, why do some people find it so hard to believe that wars are necessary and inevitable? Why do so many people have a romantic notion that we can all avoid wars if we just reason together?
It's actually mathematically provable that wars are necessary. You can prove mathematically that the worldwide birth rate grows faster than the rate at which new sources of food are developed. Therefore, people must eventually starve -- unless they are killed by war or disease.
In fact, those are the three ways that nature provides to kill people when there are too many: famine, disease and war.
Nature provides us with a powerful sex drive to guarantee that we'll have children -- too many children. Nature also provides humans with a powerful desire for war at the right time.
This may surprise you, but America is in one of those times right now. As of this writing, American has just been prosecuting two different wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.
Of course, we have wars all the time, but there's something different today, and this is the point: The American public is ready, willing and anxious to pursue these wars, as justice and retribution for the 9/11 attacks. President Bush has openly adopted a new policy of "preemption," permitting America to take military action against a country that is only a threat to American citizens, and the American public overwhelmingly supports this policy. The antiwar movement has been silenced -- not by the government, but by open hostility to it by ordinary Americans.
This is new: When Islamic fundamentalists bombed New York's World Trade Center in 1993, killing or wounding over a thousand people, no wars were declared, and the public outcry would have been enormous if there had been.
Things happen in their time, as we've said, and this is the time that America is headed for a new major war. Americans want justice and retribution.
This change of attitude is coming from the American people. If Al Gore were president, instead of George W. Bush, the same thing would be happening, because Americans' attitudes would have changed in exactly the same way no matter who became President.
What we will show is that there's a very good reason why Americans' attitudes have changed in this way, and it has nothing to do with today's politicians. We will show that Americans' attitudes changed because, around the year 2000, the generation of people who had grown up during World War II all retired or died at roughly the same time.
|Pick any day of any year in the last century, and the chances are that 20-40 wars were going on in the world on that day.|
We'll show that this risk-aversive generation of people who grew up during World War II guided us through decades of international policy, keeping us from taking unnecessary chances. As older workers, these people were our politicians, journalists, teachers, and mentors, and thanks to their caution and risk-aversion, we took few risks as a nation.
We'll show that once they were replaced, en masse, by a new generation, the Baby Boomers who grew up after World War II, things changed. We'll show how this new generation of politicians, journalists, teachers and mentors is much less risk-aversive and cautious, willing to take much greater risks. We'll show how this change of generations will now lead us to the major war.
If you'd like an explanation that's just a little too simple, here it is: Getting revenge is an elemental human desire, as powerful an emotional force as sex. When any major crisis war ends, it's out of exhaustion. The side that lost wants revenge, but the people who lived through the war realize that revenge will have to wait. It waits until the people who lived through the war are gone. That creates a roughly 80-year generational cycle. This simple model will be refined and expanded in the chapters that follow.