Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The Book: David Brinkley, WASHINGTON GOES TO WAR: The Extraordinary Transformation of a City and a Nation. Knopf (Book of the Month Club edition), 1988. Good condition; dust jacket and pages are slightly age-browned, spine is slightly cocked.
First read: 1991
Owned since: 1998 (best guess)

I'm pretty sure I originally gave this book to my grandmother, who passed it on to my parents. How it came into my possession, I don't remember; I'd like to believe that I took it when my parents were getting rid of things for their big move from my childhood home to their smaller house, but it's possible that I "borrowed" it at some earlier date and forgot to give it back.

Anyway, it's a nonfiction book that reads like a great novel, and it feels horribly poignant in today's world. David Brinkley was a young man during the Second World War, serving in the army; he came home and became a titan of American journalism.

Now, people go to journalism school, and no one gets a job with a national news organization without a graduate degree. Only one percent of the country serves in the American military, and we're in the fifth year of a war that has had almost no effect on any of us until now -- when the combination of guns and butter is collapsing our economy, driving up food prices, and making us pay $3.50/gallon for gas. (My local gas station is now charging $3.499/gallon. I literally gasped when I drove by it this afternoon.)

It didn't have to be this way. If we'd had a different kind of President and a different kind of Congress in the days and months after 9/11, the entire nation could have mobilized around a new energy policy, a new system of public service, a new internationalism and a new vision for the role of the United States in the world. Historians will look back on the administrations of George W. Bush as one of the most horribly squandered opportunities in the history of human politics.

Brinkley describes how, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, Washington transformed itself from a sleepy Southern town to the capital of the free world. Every American went to war, every American felt responsible for helping to defeat the evils of Nazism. Boys enlisted; girls got factory jobs; young people converged on Washington and lived four to an apartment in order to be part of the war effort.

In the wake of September 11, we all wanted to come together for something purposeful. We'd have taken EMT courses, we'd have signed up to learn Arabic, we'd have traded in our gas-guzzling cars for more fuel-efficient vehicles. We waited, we wanted to be asked.

What did our President do? He told us to spend money and take vacations.

Thank God it's an election year.

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