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Monday, July 19, 2004

The Quarter-century: Reflections
 
Today I turned 25. I was just idling thinking the other day of the changes that the world I was born into to has undergone to become the world today.
 
In the summer of 1979 Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan were still in power. So was Leonid Brezhnev. NATO and the Warsaw Pact had lapsed into a semi-comfortable enmity. AIDS was unknown. In Rome the Catholic Church had just chosen the first non-Italian to be Pope in several centuries. For the most observant the fires of Solidarity were just visible. Most people assumed the Cold War was a simple fact of life, to be worked around rather than changed.
 
I cannot remember the Cold War itself. I can remember the euphoria of its ending. 1989 was the year that my own coherent memories of international politics begin. I can remember the huge sense of disbelief, and child-like hope that this was not all a dream. I can remember my parents smiling a little more, people being friendlier and cheerful. I can remember, simply, the fear of Armageddon receeding. I cannot remember the fear itself, but I can at least appreciate it for remembering its retreat.
 
That in itself is simply the greatest difference between now and then, and yet these days the Cold War is so rarely referenced one would be hard-pushed to think it were that big a deal. How quickly people forget. While I treat calling this period "the End of History" with utter disdain, it is nearly impossible to stress its importance. Until 9/11 our modern world was mostly a world of hope. It is now once again subject to fear.
 
Fear must always be confronted. Being afraid is no crime, acknowleding a fear can take a rare courage. But to let fear dictate our actions is to be defeated by it. That is why the source of that fear must be confronted and excised. The Cold War was not ended by the accomodation of the 1970s, but by the confrontation of the 1980s. That confrontation took many forms, from the political/economic confrontation of Reagan and Thatcher, to the moral confrontation of John Paul II, to the domestic confrontation of Solidarity and other dissident groups.
 
To defeat this evil of Islam Fundamentalist Terror we must also confront it, rather than cower in the aisles of the United Nations or the European Union. To be born into fear is no blessing, even when that fear is not understood. The legacy of the 1980s was the hope of the 1990s. I hope that the legacy of this decade will be another decade of hope, but I fear that instead a whole new generation will grow up cowering in fear, captive of a generation who dared not upset an immoral monster.

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