Letter to My Generation on the Era of Occupations and Invasions
When you’re young, they teach you about tentpole events in history like you’re never going to experience any.
The Black Death killed hundreds of millions in the 1300s while Shakespeare wrote some of the world’s greatest plays.
The Beer Hall Putsch was an early warning of the rise of Hitler and the horrors to come.
The invasion of Poland was the starting point of World War II.
You don’t think you’ll be around for tentpoles like a world war or a plague. You are raised by Baby Boomers. They know relative peace and unprecedented prosperity.
From a childhood playroom, you will watch the Berlin Wall tumble and marvel at the chunks of graffiti-marked cement.
You will ask, in school and at home, why Hitler wasn’t stopped from killing millions of Jews.
You will be told that it’s complicated.
In college you will be told it’s the End of History. You will quickly discover that, unfortunately, it is not.
At home you will be told: You will hide Jews. We are the kind of family that hides Jews. Do you understand?
You will say: I understand. I promise.
In the back of your mind, you think that with all the museums and foundations and survivor testimonies and Auschwitz visits and Elie Wiesel books that it will not happen again.
You will, however, observe other genocides in your lifetime. Little will be done about them.
Rwanda comes to mind. One day you will meet a hero of that crisis — the general to whom no one listened — and you will see both his passion for peace and the immense mental toll of being told that it’s complicated and you aren’t allowed to prevent death.
Speaking of mental tolls, there will come a plague.
You grew up dancing to a nursery rhyme where we all fall down.
They do not tell you that in a plague, you lose people who become not names and souls but numbers. You hide from the world. You lose your job. You lose your mind a little or a lot.
Everyone around you has lost their mind a little or a lot.
They do not tell you that when science is good enough to understand a virus, to even begin to understand a new virus, that science becomes the enemy because it tells us what we do not want to hear.
In the name of objecting to the science, you will see that your countrymen somehow manage to do sedition with a side of folksy kitsch, if you ignore the darkness lurking underneath — violent threats and stated intent to overthrow the government.
You will see representatives of your neighbor’s political humor industrial complex drop in. They will interview occupiers, poking gentle fun and perhaps uttering a guilty sigh of recognition.
Some occupiers allegedly have weapons. Some pee on the National War Memorial. Some build bouncy castles for the children they have inexplicably brought.
You will know this does not make it less dangerous.
They do not tell you what will happen when the digitized culture of a falling empire dominates the attention of the world. They do not tell you what will happen when assets of rogue states spread lies that scroll into the cultural consciousness, unchecked.
You will go to college and study political thinkers. You will overuse terms like “Orwellian” and admire clever takes on sinister Parties and animal tales that aren’t really about animals or farms.
The refrain will echo in your ears:
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
You will go to Parliament Hill and work night and day, with your whole mind and heart, for leaders who talk of ideals.
You will not think enough about how being the good guys is both relative and not relative.
You do not consider on whose land you walk, beneath the marble floors you cross every day in the house of the people. You do not consider that your symbols, while beautiful, have meaning and glory and also signify beginnings laced with ugliness and genocide and death. You do not think about this when you admire the complexity of the stonework.
You do not consider that the system of which you are a guardian encourages you to maintain it.
You do not know that there will be a reckoning for your belief that your team are the good guys.
All of that is yet to come.
You are working in a temple of democracy. Your heartbeat falls into step with the chiming of the bells calling the Members into the House of Commons for votes. You think you will always love this more than anything else.
The power granted by the people. The rituals of the system. The benevolence of the leadership.
It is heady and electrifying and it turns you on.
You do not know that the world will turn.
That the strongmen will rise again.
That the plague will create chaos.
That printing presses made of algorithms will poison minds.
That ideology will be more important than truth.
You will see that a Beer Hall Putsch will happen in your neighbor’s capital. Some will warn of danger, yelling from the rooftops, as they envision the plot points leading to the tentpole. Yelling from the rooftops is now done in 280 characters.
You will watch the flashing of explosions from the invasion you have dreaded, from the safety of a computer screen.
In your country, you will see hate that you haven’t seen before. You will witness the return of the symbols of Hitler. You will watch your temple of democracy — sitting on land never ceded — and the symbols of the city and the state defaced, leaders and institutions under threat.
You will watch municipal and provincial politicians, with whom you used to attend cocktail parties, fail and flail.
You will watch a national leader (of your stripe but not of your heart) try to manage the situation.
You will think of his father, the philosopher king turned sex symbol, who said:
Just watch me.
It will be a tale of two emergencies. Pere et fils.
You will watch the hate machine kick in against the son, pop culture icon turned punching bag.
You will watch politicians and pundits and grifters from other shores misrepresent and lie and interfere.
You will watch the coming invasion in the east loom over the world. You will watch it stop looming and start happening.
The algorithm machines will bear false witness.
People who are suffering will be exploited in old ways and new.
You do not want to know what they have in store for us beyond these 21 or so days in February.
They in this case are not the teachers and parents of your youth but the string-pullers who pillage the world while the rest of us scream at each other. It sounds like:
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
You do not know what the contemporary version will be of your promise to your parents to hide Jews. You continue to hope you do not find out. You are afraid that you will.