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Generation X’s Short Arc of History

2 23 0
10.07.2021

Generation Xers were never the slackers we were made out to be in bad movies and by snarky cultural commentators. My generation came of age just before the attacks on New York City and Washington. We were inculcated with a sunny enthusiasm about remaking the world. After all, in the fall of my senior year in college, my housemates and I watched in stunned silence when the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern and Central Europeans claimed their freedom. Not long after we graduated, U.S. armed forces needed only three days of ground combat to defeat the Iraqi army after it had invaded Kuwait. Less than a year later, the hammer and sickle came down from atop the Kremlin. Just like that, the Soviet Union was gone.

While I headed to Jerusalem to see about the conflict between Israelis and Arabs, a bunch of my friends set off to Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava, and East Berlin to teach English, train journalists, help build political parties, and shape the world in the United States’ best image. We went into the world intent on righting the historical wrongs of communism. The end of history could not have been more exciting.

Generation Xers were never the slackers we were made out to be in bad movies and by snarky cultural commentators. My generation came of age just before the attacks on New York City and Washington. We were inculcated with a sunny enthusiasm about remaking the world. After all, in the fall of my senior year in college, my housemates and I watched in stunned silence when the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern and Central Europeans claimed their freedom. Not long after we graduated, U.S. armed forces needed only three days of ground combat to defeat the Iraqi army after it had invaded Kuwait. Less than a year later, the hammer and sickle came down from atop the Kremlin. Just like that, the Soviet Union was gone.

While I headed to Jerusalem to see about the conflict between Israelis and Arabs, a bunch of my friends set off to Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava, and East Berlin to teach English, train journalists, help build political parties, and shape the world in the United States’ best image. We went into the world intent on righting the historical wrongs of communism. The end of history could not have been more exciting.

After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made, Ben Rhodes, Random House, 384 pp., $20, June 2021

Three decades later, I found myself standing in the broiling sun on the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue with an old friend wondering what was happening. U.S. President Donald Trump had just announced his child separation policy. It was—to us—a shocking development. “How could this be?” we asked each other. This was after the Muslim ban and a variety of other early Trump administration assaults on America’s system of government. Never had we thought our democracy was one we would need to fight for. Yet, there we were, asking ourselves........

© Foreign Policy


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