We mark the days of our lives with birthdays, annual events that have a beginning and an end known only to God. As of October 9th I have 76 of them and that’s a lot, but history has a long perspective.
Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, the Constitution became effective in 1788, but barely 73 years later the Civil War began in 1861. A single man or woman’s life could have spanned the years from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln.
A person born at the end of the Civil War in 1863 who lived 76 years would have seen the Second World War begin in 1939, though the U.S. would not join the war until 1941. I was born in 1937. That seems a long time ago, but in terms of the nation’s history, it isn’t.
America is still a very young nation, but it is also one of the most extraordinary experiments in individual freedom and liberty that, unless its history is taught to contrast the control that other governments exercise over their citizens, there is the risk of not understanding or valuing the precious gift the Founding Fathers gave us and the millions who fought and died to protect and preserve it.
We are at risk of losing our freedom as our government expands in size and in the capability of tracking every aspect of our life from birth to death. As citizens, we are losing our privacy; something the Founders thought was very important and built into the Constitution.
Previous generations lived through periods in which relatively little change occurred, but my parents, both born shortly after the turn of the 20th century in 1901 and 1903, lived through an era of such rapid technological change that they could recall when there was no nationwide electrification, no airplanes, no radio, no television, no air conditioning, no fast food restaurant chains, and few cars or the highways to accommodate them. The first flight of the Wright brothers’ airplane was in 1903. It lasted a few seconds. The first Ford Model T automobile rolled off the line in 1908.
I have been reading a book, “1948: The Crossroads Year”, by James F. Nagle. At one point he noted that Americans who had been through the Great Depression put a lot more money into their savings accounts, $12 billion in 1948 as compared to $2.7 billion in 1939.
“To put that amount in perspective, a postage stamp cost $.03; a loaf of bread was $.14; a quart of milk $.21; a six-pack of Budweiser $.56; a gallon of gas ranged from $.16 to $.28; the average car cost $2,055 with a Cadillac at $3,657 and a Chevrolet cost $1,587. The minimum wage was $.40 per hour and the median family income was $3,187.”
Change in America was so rapid after the end of World War Two in 1945 that it must have seemed extraordinary even in those times. Over a million young men came back from the war, got married, and produced a “baby boom.” The GI Bill enabled veterans to attend college and become professionals, engineers, and scientists in ways previous generations could not have dreamed. Others went into business and some were content to be blue collar workers.