Despite all the evidence of the past several decades, you still have not grasped one simple fact: that, just about a century after the last one ended, we engaged in a great civil war, one that will determine the kind of country we and our descendants shall henceforth live in for at least the next hundred years — and, one hopes, a thousand. Since there hasn’t been any shooting, so far, some call the struggle we are now involved in the “culture wars,” but I have another, better name for it: the Cold Civil War
In many ways, this new civil war is really an inter-generational struggle, the War of the Baby Boomers. America’s largest generation, the famous “pig in the python,” has affected everything it’s touched, from the schools of the 1950s (not enough of them) through the colleges of the 1960s (changed, changed utterly), through the political movements of the 1970s and ’80s (revolution and counter-revolution), and into the present, where the war is still being waged.
Your side admired strength, resolve. and purposefulness; we were stuck with weakness and indecision. You saw the world as something to be conquered; we saw the world as a hostile force needing to be appeased. You dealt with life head-on, never complaining and never explaining; we ran home and told our mommies. Think of us as Cain to your Abel, hating you from practically the moment we were born, hating you for your excellence and your unabashed pursuit thereof while we were the ugly stepchildren. Well, Cinderfella — how do you like us now?
The Cold Civil War, in its early stages, was marked by repeated clashes between the visionaries among the Baby Boomer youth (my dad, the sainted “Che” Kahane, was of course one of them) and their parents, between students and the pigs, between the Free Speech Movement of Mario Savio and the other Berkeley protesters, and the university deans and presidents who at first resisted them but quickly and cravenly capitulated to hordes of unwashed goliards and — at Cornell in 1969 — to an actual armed takeover of the school’s Willard Straight Hall on, fittingly, Parents’ Weekend, by gun-toting black students. Heck, we even got our heads proudly bashed in on the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention.
Those were heady early days, marked by the Left’s generational blitzkrieg against an unprepared and astonished Establishment. To hear my dad tell it, our side couldn’t believe how easy it was. I mean, here we were, ready to almost lay down our lives for what we believed in — and what we believed in was basically nothing, disguised as “protest.” We were the bastard idiot children of Rousseau as filtered through the nihilists of the 19th century, seething with rage against the Burroughs Soft Machine, but otherwise pretty much clueless as to what, exactly, we were protesting — except, of course, the draft: “Hell, no, we won’t go,” was our ultra-patriotic battle cry. We sure knew what that was about. And yet we rolled through our parents’ and grandparents’ generation like the Panzers through Poland.
And they capitulated so quickly and so completely — especially the academics, who made the French in 1940 look like the heroic Warsaw Ghetto fighters under Anielewicz in 1943. That was the moment when we realized that the universities, far from being instruments of the oppressor, were actually ours for the taking and a natural nesting place for the long term, pretty much in perpetuity. Even after we so clearly provoked Mayor Daley’s coppers during the convention, and later during the “Days of Rage” — “direct action” was our euphemism for violence and vandalism — the Walker Report blamed it all on the fuzz and said what happened in the streets was a “police riot.” Can you believe that? By May 1970, what had begun on the steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley just six years earlier was essentially over, and we had won.
After the unpleasantness at Kent State, the movement went both underground, with the heroic Weathermen bombers (shame about that townhouse in Greenwich Village), and, much more effectively, above ground: into the schools, the law firms, the journalism programs, the civil-rights movement, the environmentalist movement (which, believe it or not, actually started in the ’70s, with the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 — inspired by a call from a Democratic senator and activist named Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin) where, like the syphilis virus, it went dormant for decades until it finally burst forth, with what happy results we now enjoy. We are nothing if not incubators.
The purpose of war is to kill your enemy, but after Kent State — when it was we who were getting killed — we had to stop fighting up front and out in the open, and instead begin a gradual process of getting you to kill yourselves. Now, that’s what I call a Cold War! Probably for the first time in history, one side pins its hopes of winning on the other’s gullibility and willingness to believe even the most patently impossible things: Polar bears who can’t swim! Melting ice caps! Seas rising! And that’s simply “global warming,” the magnificent hoax with which we succeeded “global cooling” when that one didn’t work out 30 years ago.
But there’s oh-so-much more:
Your kids are all crazy — give them drugs!
Your cars are going to kill us all — better to ride bicycles, even in sub-zero weather! Right down the middle of the internal-combustion-engine-propelled traffic we haven’t managed to eliminate yet!
Religion is the opiate of the masses — so go see a shrink!
Cow farts are destroying the ionosphere, or whatever it is — eat veggies!
Criminals should be allowed to vote!
Marriage is an outmoded, sexist, patriarchal institution — but let gays marry!
It’s like that scene in Goldfinger, when Bond, James Bond, is lying there strapped to the table, with a laser beam (standing in for the usual buzz saw) slowing sliding up his legs towards his crotch, and he asks the villain, “You expect me to talk?” To which Goldfinger replies, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
Or, if it’s a movie closer to our own time you’re after, what about this exchange from Independence Day? You remember, the scene where the Area 51 alien has wrapped his tentacles around Brent Spiner’s neck so he can communicate with the pitiful earthlings:
THE PRESIDENT: What is it that you want us to do?
Well, those two scenes pretty much sum up our attitude vis-à-vis you.
And now you’ve reached the central conundrum, which is why you’re having such a hard time engaging us on the field of battle. Meanwhile, we’re damn well going to enjoy living in each and every “moment” while we’re here — being atheists, we are nothing if not “in the moment” — and failing that, at least make sure that your lives are as miserable as ours are.
The difference is that now it is no longer a battle between generations, but a civil war within a generation, yes, the good old Baby Boomers.
If their parents were the Greatest Generation, what can we say of our glorious Boomer forebears? The Worst Generation slips trippingly off the tongue. The Me Generation got hung on them long ago. The Narcissistic, Irresponsible, Arrogant, and Entitled Generation is a little long. So how about this: the Viper Generation.
For sure, weren’t they like vipers in the breasts of all those schlimazels who came home from the war and promptly went about their duties to be fruitful and multiply the suburbs? And the thanks they got was the poisonous asps who lay in their cribs, played in their leafy yards, broke down the remaining social barriers that had previously kept their riff-raff folks out of the Ivy League schools, and turned on their own kith and kin with a ferocity that hasn’t been seen since Orestes whacked Clytemnestra and her boyfriend though they obviously had it coming.
Dedicated as we are to striking, destroying, poisoning, and destabilizing, we naturally flocked to a party with a long criminal history such as the “progressive” Democrats had, and their admirably “flexible” and “nuanced” approach to such arcane notions as law and truth and morality and standards of right and wrong. It was like a permanent “get out of jail free” card, a form of atheist indulgence buying, but instead of sinning no more, we went out and sinned our tushes off.
Up was suddenly Down. Black was suddenly White. In was suddenly Out. How wonderful it all was. We never thought of the consequences, because consequences are for later and we are for the here and now. It’s no accident that one of our standard rejoinders when you lot objects to one or another of our social experiments that we’ve just implemented, usually by judicial fiat, is: “Well, the sky didn’t fall, did it?’
Only one thing stood, and continues to stand, in our way: you.
And by you I mean principally the other half of the Baby Boomer cohort, the ones who didn’t, like Satan, rebel. Some of them, a few, were like the angel Abdiel, who flirted with joining the insurgents but quickly repented and returned to the Enemy camp. But most of them just got up in the morning and went to work, dealing with reality as if it were, you know, reality, instead of the elaborate artificial academic construct we had fashioned. Unlike us, the constant kvetches, they never complained. They worked for ten cents on our dollar, their backs worth less than the penny for our thoughts, and still the fools were under the impression they were living the American Dream. Try as we might, and we did, to convince them otherwise, they believed in this country, believed in American exceptionalism, believed that their children would have a better life, believed — even when, like Abdiel, they slipped and fell — in the power of redemption. And even though we laughed at them, they persisted, which is one virtue we certainly know how to respect.
So the Cold Civil War continues, unto the generations, which would be mine. Because unless you finish us, we are most certainly going to finish you.
— David Kahane is the author of the incredibly prescient book, Rules for Radical Conservatives, from which this article is excerpted. You can tell him how right he is by “friending” him on Facebook, writing to him at [email protected], or following him on Twitter @dkahanerules.