Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The American Century, Five Years Behind Us

There is a fascinating article by John Lancaster in today’s Washington Post, titled India, China Hoping to ‘Reshape the World Order’ Together.  Long time foes, recent time edgy negotiators, China and India have just fallen into one another’s arms like star-struck lovers. Nudged, inadvertantly to be sure, by that arranger of strange marriages, America.


As much as any other recent event, this rapprochement may signal that our current century will not follow the last as a fully “American” century.  We’ve had our run, it’s been a not-all-that-great hundred years that saw two world wars, a half century of cold war and an enormous wasting of worldwide resources that’s left our country rich, powerful, not very well liked and militarily dominant without all that much of a plan for how to use the power.  It sneaked up on us.  The wheels came off of communism and there we were.


Still, with 95% of this century yet to reveal itself, it’s a little premature to be making judgments.  But I think we Americans feel some of the air leaking out of our balloon. The middle of the last century found us the world’s greatest creditor as the Marshall Plan rebuilt Asia and Europe . . . now we are head-and-shoulders the biggest debtor for no compelling reason other than our wanting it all.  The planet’s mightiest producer after WWII, it’s slightly embarrassing to find ourselves having off-shored that dominance to India and China. We were, for all of the last century, the most hungered-for place on earth to immigrate and in the first four years of this hundred we seem to have lost that reputation as well. 


Perhaps immigrant matters are temporary, an illusion exacerbated by the strain of world terrorism and soon to settle down and hunger once again.  One hopes so, but there’s a chilly feel.  It seems to me that the strain of post-911 has set us to bickering among ourselves like children whose parents are on the edge of divorce and ill-defined uneasiness permeates every aspect of home life.  We snarl across the dinner table as our Republican dad and Democratic mom break up, because we’re scared.  We look at each other nervously and don’t sleep well, listening to a muffled argument from the other room. We don’t want to live in a broken home.  We want it to be like it was.


But it’s never like it was. Life’s fondest and most unrealistic dream is that anything can ever be like it was. Like it was isn’t even like it was, except in faulty memory with all its filtering of the bad and glorifying split seconds of ecstasy among bunches of more-than-ordinary days and years. Ask any oldster and watch their eyes fairly mist with remembrances of ‘simpler times’ that include ten years climbing out of the ’29 crash, immediately followed by a world war.  How simple.  Simply dreadful.


So, if it’s to be China’s and India’s century, welcome to it. We’ll do okay as we have always done okay and it might be a lightening of the load to get some financial help from a couple of economies with their pants on fire.


As if there was really a choice.