Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 17-Apr-06
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld under fire

Web Log - April, 2006

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld under fire

Rumsfeld is the only person in Washington, Republican or Democrat, who knows what's going on in the world and is in a position to do something about it.

As I've said before, Rumsfeld was born in 1932, and is a member of the "Silent Generation" that grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. Rumsfeld was old enough to understand that the militarization of Hitler's Germany in the mid 1930s led to the most violent war the world has known, and Rumsfeld can see the same thing happening in China's aggressive militarization today. Thus, he's been modernizing the armed forces and refocusing it on the Pacific, in preparation for a preemptive war by China.

We should thank our lucky stars that we have the services of this highly skilled person from the Silent generation. Given the cataclysmic world war that's coming soon, Donald Rumsfeld may be uniquely able to prepare the armed forces and the country for this war, especially given today's nasty political climate. I absolutely dread the day that Rumsfeld is replaced as Secretary of Defense by a Boomer or Generation-Xer. No Boomer or Xer of either political party could yet possibly understand the world as well as Rumsfeld.

I normally don't comment on politics because, frankly, it doesn't make any difference. My view is that Al Gore would have been a fine President, George Bush is a fine President, and Hillary Clinton or whoever is elected in 2008 will be a fine President. And if Al Gore had been President after 9/11, then we'd be just as deeply into Iraq today as we are under Bush. It couldn't have happened any other way.

But the fact that I rarely comment on politics doesn't mean that I don't feel enormous distaste and disgust at the level of political debate that we hear every day in the news. This is particularly true these days when we have people on the left accusing the administration of planning to attack Iran with nuclear weapons, with the accusations led by Seymour Hersh, a man who compares the American armed forces to Nazi Storm Troopers in Hitler's Third Reich. (This is comparable to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry who apparently believes that American soldiers in Vietnam were the equivalent of Nazi Storm Troopers of World War II who committed atrocities against the Jews. How we can take any such people seriously is beyond me.)

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this kind of destructive and fatuous political nonsense is typical of generational crisis periods. This is certainly what happened during America's last two generational crisis wars, the Civil War and World War II.

Abraham Lincoln was bitterly criticized during the Civil War in the 1860s. The early battles were "disasters" and "quagmires" for the North. The most vicious criticisms came from the "Copperheads" - Peace Democrats who despised Lincoln and argued that the civil war was his fault. The 1864 Democratic Party Platform called for peace negotiations with the South, to end the war as quickly as possible, "after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretence of military necessity, ... the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down."

As for Franklin Roosevelt, the Republicans were able to accuse the President of one scandal after another. Just google the words "fdr scandal" to get a sense of how those scandals are still remembered today.

This kind of political egg-throwing is not unique to America. It corresponds to something I've talked about frequently -- that country after country around the world gets mired in politics and is unable to accomplish anything. It happens when people in the previous postwar generation -- in our case the Baby Boomers -- take leadership positions some 55-60 years after they're born. (The last time I discussed this, I was pointing out that the Congressional calendar this year is just 97 days.)

William Strauss and Neil Howe, the founders of generational theory, analyzed these political cycles in their 1997 book, The Fourth Turning. Just after any crisis war, like WW II, the society is fully unified. Political strife begins with the "generational awakening" era, such as 1960s America, when the first postwar generation (the Boomers, in our case) comes of age. From that point on, society continues to unravel until we reach the current stage, where we have a maximum of political brawling, and a minimal capability to get anything done.

However, this level of political discord does not continue forever. A generational crisis, such as we're in now, is characterized by a series of unpleasant shocks, of which the 9/11 attacks was only the first. Eventually one of these shocks turns the public around, and makes people realize that their country and their entire way of life are in danger. That point, which occurs in every crisis war, is called the "regeneracy," because it signals the regeneration of civic unity.

They describe what happens as follows:

"Collective action is now seen as vital to solving the society's most fundamental problems. ... A Crisis mood does not guarantee that the new governing policies will be well designed or will work as intended. To the contrary: Crisis eras are studded with faulty leadership and inept management -- from President Lincoln's poor record of choosing generals to President Roosevelt's collossal blunders with such alphabet soup agencies as the AAA, NRA and WPA. What makes a Crisis special is the public's willingness to let leaders lead even when they falter and to let authorities be authoritative even when they make mistakes. Amid this civic solidarity, mediocre leaders can gain immense popular following; bad policies can be made to work (or, at least, be perceived as working); and, as at Pearl Harbor, even a spectacular failure does not undermine public support. Good policy choices pay off quickly. (In an Awakening, by contrast, even the best leaders and plans can fail, and one misstep can destroy public confidence.)" [The Fourth Turning, pp 257-258]

What kind of event causes this kind of regeneracy of civic unity? From history we know that it's a shock of such enormous magnitude that it make all political considerations irrelevant. In 1861, it was the disastrous Union loss at the Battle of Bull Run. In 1941, it was the disastrous Pearl Harbor attack, which wiped out almost all of America's entire Pacific fleet.

It's impossible, of course, to predict what event will cause the regeneracy of civic unity in 2000s America. It might be a huge terrorist attack on American soil, it might be a bird flu pandemic, or it might be a disastrous military loss overseas. But when it comes, it will cause a tremendous national reaction, a rejection of all the petty political disputes we see today, and the public unifying behind their leaders.

In the meantime, all we can do is prepare.

I've repeatedly urged all my readers to prepare for a bird flu pandemic. And while these preparations are nominally for a pandemic, the same preparations will help you and your family in other kinds of emergencies.

It's also necessary for the nation to prepare. In our current hateful political atmosphere, it's very hard for anyone to get anything done at all, let alone restructure our armed forces to prepare for a 21st century world war.

But Donald Rumsfeld has been doing that for five years, and continues to do it. We're lucky to have him, and every day that he's in office represents one more day of preparation for what's to come. (17-Apr-06) Permanent Link
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail
Donate to Generational Dynamics via PayPal

Web Log Pages

Current Web Log

Web Log Summary - 2016
Web Log Summary - 2015
Web Log Summary - 2014
Web Log Summary - 2013
Web Log Summary - 2012
Web Log Summary - 2011
Web Log Summary - 2010
Web Log Summary - 2009
Web Log Summary - 2008
Web Log Summary - 2007
Web Log Summary - 2006
Web Log Summary - 2005
Web Log Summary - 2004

Web Log - December, 2016
Web Log - November, 2016
Web Log - October, 2016
Web Log - September, 2016
Web Log - August, 2016
Web Log - July, 2016
Web Log - June, 2016
Web Log - May, 2016
Web Log - April, 2016
Web Log - March, 2016
Web Log - February, 2016
Web Log - January, 2016
Web Log - December, 2015
Web Log - November, 2015
Web Log - October, 2015
Web Log - September, 2015
Web Log - August, 2015
Web Log - July, 2015
Web Log - June, 2015
Web Log - May, 2015
Web Log - April, 2015
Web Log - March, 2015
Web Log - February, 2015
Web Log - January, 2015
Web Log - December, 2014
Web Log - November, 2014
Web Log - October, 2014
Web Log - September, 2014
Web Log - August, 2014
Web Log - July, 2014
Web Log - June, 2014
Web Log - May, 2014
Web Log - April, 2014
Web Log - March, 2014
Web Log - February, 2014
Web Log - January, 2014
Web Log - December, 2013
Web Log - November, 2013
Web Log - October, 2013
Web Log - September, 2013
Web Log - August, 2013
Web Log - July, 2013
Web Log - June, 2013
Web Log - May, 2013
Web Log - April, 2013
Web Log - March, 2013
Web Log - February, 2013
Web Log - January, 2013
Web Log - December, 2012
Web Log - November, 2012
Web Log - October, 2012
Web Log - September, 2012
Web Log - August, 2012
Web Log - July, 2012
Web Log - June, 2012
Web Log - May, 2012
Web Log - April, 2012
Web Log - March, 2012
Web Log - February, 2012
Web Log - January, 2012
Web Log - December, 2011
Web Log - November, 2011
Web Log - October, 2011
Web Log - September, 2011
Web Log - August, 2011
Web Log - July, 2011
Web Log - June, 2011
Web Log - May, 2011
Web Log - April, 2011
Web Log - March, 2011
Web Log - February, 2011
Web Log - January, 2011
Web Log - December, 2010
Web Log - November, 2010
Web Log - October, 2010
Web Log - September, 2010
Web Log - August, 2010
Web Log - July, 2010
Web Log - June, 2010
Web Log - May, 2010
Web Log - April, 2010
Web Log - March, 2010
Web Log - February, 2010
Web Log - January, 2010
Web Log - December, 2009
Web Log - November, 2009
Web Log - October, 2009
Web Log - September, 2009
Web Log - August, 2009
Web Log - July, 2009
Web Log - June, 2009
Web Log - May, 2009
Web Log - April, 2009
Web Log - March, 2009
Web Log - February, 2009
Web Log - January, 2009
Web Log - December, 2008
Web Log - November, 2008
Web Log - October, 2008
Web Log - September, 2008
Web Log - August, 2008
Web Log - July, 2008
Web Log - June, 2008
Web Log - May, 2008
Web Log - April, 2008
Web Log - March, 2008
Web Log - February, 2008
Web Log - January, 2008
Web Log - December, 2007
Web Log - November, 2007
Web Log - October, 2007
Web Log - September, 2007
Web Log - August, 2007
Web Log - July, 2007
Web Log - June, 2007
Web Log - May, 2007
Web Log - April, 2007
Web Log - March, 2007
Web Log - February, 2007
Web Log - January, 2007
Web Log - December, 2006
Web Log - November, 2006
Web Log - October, 2006
Web Log - September, 2006
Web Log - August, 2006
Web Log - July, 2006
Web Log - June, 2006
Web Log - May, 2006
Web Log - April, 2006
Web Log - March, 2006
Web Log - February, 2006
Web Log - January, 2006
Web Log - December, 2005
Web Log - November, 2005
Web Log - October, 2005
Web Log - September, 2005
Web Log - August, 2005
Web Log - July, 2005
Web Log - June, 2005
Web Log - May, 2005
Web Log - April, 2005
Web Log - March, 2005
Web Log - February, 2005
Web Log - January, 2005
Web Log - December, 2004
Web Log - November, 2004
Web Log - October, 2004
Web Log - September, 2004
Web Log - August, 2004
Web Log - July, 2004
Web Log - June, 2004

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.