Monday, February 4, 2008

Memories of the War

Roger Cohen has an article this last weekend in the Times and the Herald Tribune about asking teenagers in the former East Berlin (now just eastern Berlin) about communism. None of them know what it is. One promises to check out Wikipedia.

We discussed it in sixth grade - age 11 - when I were a young 'un - not very coherently perhaps - we knew it was this horrible unAmerican system they had in Russia and China and East Berlin and Cuba - thought control and prison camps and bad food - I don't think we knew anything more about it. But of course it was real then; it was a living, breathing bugaboo; one had to know, and care, and worry. It was the enemy boldly combated on the big screen by Jimmy Cagney in One, Two, Three, where communist secret service were shown torturing dissidents with rock n roll records.

Young people think of the Cold War or the Vietnam War or even the War on AIDS the way I thought of World War II when I was that young: however recent, however close its end had been to my personal beginning, it was deeply and irremovably over before I actually became conscious. There was a LINE across the pages of history, and NOW was the place beyond it. FDR was the last great monumental figure, because he died before I was born. Stalin had still been alive (just barely) when I was born. Richard Strauss died a few weeks before I emerged. Strauss and FDR and Mahatma Gandhi were the past, Stalin and King George VI and Senator McCarthy the recent past, Ike and the 4th Republic and Battista were now but out of fashion (and power), JFK and LBJ and Mao and Khruschchev and Castro were now (but not for long).

I have to make myself remember World War II when I talk to my friends' kids about the Cold War - it's already that far gone to them, the thing that seemed eternal to me as late as my first visit to Berlin in 1988. I don't know how other people keep track of time - rock songs by the year, I gather.

It's morbid to care about the past. Even historians are concerned with future events such as publication and tenure. But I really focus on the past. Morbid. The future does not inspire me. I haven't much faith in it. The environment is in free-fall. The state of the Union is dubious at best. Pop music will be worse than ever.

Lots of bright young faces at the opera these days: kudos to Peter Gelb after all. Even at Die Walküre!

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