Ronald Kidd - August 2020

Your Dear Little Ear

What started out as one historic crisis has become two: the pandemic and racial reckoning. The odd thing—one of many these days—is that they call for radically different, almost opposite responses.

The pandemic calls for quarantine—in fact, I sometimes use the two words interchangeably: “during the pandemic…” and “during the quarantine….” It is passive, something to be resisted and outlasted. We hunker down. We keep our distance. We wander through the house, trying to pretend things are normal.

The racial crisis calls for us to reach out, communicate, understand, change. It is active. It begs for assembly, demonstration—the very things that quarantine discourages and even prohibits. We gather in groups to vent and discuss. We stand shoulder to shoulder, literally, with no sign of social distancing. One could argue that social distancing is what caused the problem in the first place: what is segregation but social distancing on a huge, hateful scale?

Wondering how in the world George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake could have been treated as they were, I find myself thinking of the Rodgers & Hammerstein song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific. The song is about how children aren’t born with racial prejudice but learn it: “It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear.”

This certainly is true of children, but they aren’t the only ones. All of us, every day, are carefully taught by the media, by the actions and inactions of others, seemingly by the very act of breathing. It turns out that corona isn’t the only virus we can inhale.

The Wise Men:
Six Friends and the World They Made

Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas’s fine book is a group biography, profiling six men who molded American foreign policy from the end of World War II to the 1960s: Dean Acheson, George Kennan, John McCloy, Robert Lovett, Charles Bohlen, and Averell Harriman.

I had done some reading about that period of American history, but it was thrilling to get behind-the-scenes, blow-by-blow accounts of what really happened and who did what regarding: the transition from battling the Nazis to fighting the Soviets, the Marshall Plan and the building of modern-day Europe, the dropping of the atomic bomb, the Korean War, the Cold War, the McCarthy era and the Communist scare, and Vietnam.

If the Marshall Plan and Kennan’s containment policy were the high points of the Wise Men’s influence, as Isaacson and Thomas suggest, then the nadir was the Vietnam War, containment’s evil twin.  

It was an event that frankly baffled them all because it seemed to be such a logical extension of what they had done so successfully their entire careers. After Vietnam, they contributed randomly and sometimes successfully, but as a group they seemed to lose their way in terms of influence, imprint on foreign policy, and consensus. 

The group or its members served Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. What a long, impressive run they had.

Now Available

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Copyright © 2020 Ronald Kidd, All rights reserved.

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