Tomorrow marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, which claimed the lives of roughly 60-80 million people. Yesterday was my 75th birthday, a milestone for anyone who has spent three-quarters of a century living on our delightful, yet contentious earth.
Instead of fighting a war against a vicious despot, we are at war with ourselves. A national consensus that undergirded our years of struggle against Nazi Germany and Japan is elusive, if not attainable, except briefly, in our United States.
Raised by parents and grandparents who believed anything was possible with hard work and education, I’ve learned that that vision is an illusion in 2020. A country that triumphed in Europe and Japan and then reinvented itself as a world power–economically, politically and militarily–is viewed as morally bankrupt, economically vulnerable and culturally divided.
As I celebrated my birthday primarily with family due to social distancing dictated by the coronavirus that has changed our lives during nearly eight months, I wondered about our disjointed response to the pandemic. Our national leadership has been sadly lacking, if not pathetically shameful.
We have no national will because our president believes that Covid-19 will simply go away, science be damn. And magically a vaccine will materialize. We’ll all live happily ever after.
Though hardly a social historian, I believe that in the America that strode purposefully and effectively after the end of World War II until 2000, confidence in combating a pandemic would have been possible. A U.S. president intent on leading, not deluding our citizenry, would have created a non-adversarial relationship with states and scientists to minimize as far as possible the deadly effects of the coronavirus.
Truth and credibility require no vaccine.
Character and concern require no social distancing, just a sincere soul and working heart.
While a sense of gloom created by our seriously constrained lives and a sham residing in our once respected White House hovers over our daily activities, I happily turned 75. Not too long ago I wondered if neurological problems with balance and dizziness would rule my 70s and beyond.
As I scanned the birthday celebration and watched family members devour lobsters and delicious chocolate cake, I smiled as the current patriarch of our small tribe, observing friendly chatter. The personalities are vastly different. Love provided the glue for the joy and harmony that permeated the noisy dinner table.
Memories dominate your thinking as you rise up the aging ranks. You inevitably think of your ancestors. Their spirit permeates the festivities. I think about my immigrant grandfather who tasted the fruits of success and liked nothing better than overseeing a table filled with grandchildren who mostly got along.
The end of World War II ushered in a truly incredible expanse of achievement and prosperity in our striving nation. Not all partook of the financial rewards, as we know. Racial inequality existed then; it surely does now.
Optimistically, I believe our country is enduring a bad patch. Our president is incompetent and amoral. His loyalty is self-directed. His ability to speak the truth is frighteningly scarce.
Born in Boston, sharing an apartment with my parents and older brother, I faced an uncertain world. For the most part, the journey from infancy to senior status has been a happy one. Disappointment mixed with flashes of glee were constant ingredients in a fulfilling life.
I remain hopeful that my future birthdays on the last day of August will be numerous despite the mathematical limitations. I am hopeful that the upsurge of optimism and achievement that followed the end of World War II on September 2, 1945 can somehow resurface in our fractious country.
And I hope that November 3, 2020 will bring a refreshing change in the occupancy of the White House. I will feel as if I were born again.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.