Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Across 40 years, parallels in turmoil and hope

The other day, while looking for something else, I discovered a stack of letters written by me to the folks at home while I was in the Army in Vietnam.

One, dated Jan. 1, 1968, exactly 40 years ago today, included a gloom-and-doom prediction. No, it wasn't my forecast (I'm almost always an optimist), but rather referred to an article titled "The human race has, maybe, 35 years left."

Unfortunately, I can't locate the actual article, and I've forgotten what sort of dire fate we supposedly faced, but I'm happy the author was wrong, or at least off by a few years.

And I'm happy to report that even though 2008 resembles 1968 in many ways, a lot of the problems we worried about then have been solved.

Even though we are still at war (a different war), and there are still assassinations, the economy is still threatened, and politics is a mess, consumers and workers are in many ways better off than in 1968.

For starters, we have a higher standard of living - although those displaced by corporate downsizing or outsourcing may dispute that.

We are connected to the world, and to each other, in ways we could only have imagined in the 1960s: the Internet, cell phones, cable-TV networks, and global-positioning devices.

We live longer and generally are healthier. And we have more control over our financial lives, through 401(k) accounts, IRAs, home-equity lines of credit, and other financial tools that didn't exist until the 1970s or 1980s.

On the other hand, some changes in recent decades have hurt many Americans, including the rise of foreign automakers, a global economy that makes it easy for American firms to do business anywhere, and the reduced power of the United States in financial and political matters worldwide.

Anyone who was at least teenage in 1968 will remember the turmoil: the Tet offensive that made it the bloodiest year in Vietnam, the protests in America, assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and the drug culture epitomized by Timothy Leary.

Some of that year's similarities with 2008 are spooky. The sitting president would not be running in the fall election (Lyndon Johnson then, George Bush now). The nation was divided over a costly war. America was threatened by foreign influences (communism then, terrorism now).

But hopefully 2008 will yield more pleasant memories and far fewer traumatic ones than did 1968.

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