A Brit tells the Colonies to quit whining!
Vanity Fair By Graydon Carter December 2010
Polls taken prior to the November midterm election indicated that a surprising number of Obama voters said they were going to vote Republican this time and an equally surprising number of McCain supporters said they would be backing Democratic candidates.
What that is about, God knows. The general anti-Obama rage out there is palpable. But it’s no more virulent than the anti-Bush sentiment that has pervaded the country for much of the past decade—although this being America, there’s an attendant hatred for Obama that has more to do with race than anything else. What makes today’s fury more worrying is the fact that angry right-wing extremists tend to carry guns in disproportionate numbers to their liberal counterparts.
A distinguished colleague of mine likens the wiggy mood of the nation to that of a hormonal teenager. What do you call an electorate that seems prone to acting out irrationally, is full of inchoate rage, and is constantly throwing fits and tantrums? You call it teenaged.
Is voting for a deranged Tea Party candidate such as Christine O’Donnell, who has no demonstrable talent for lawmaking, or much else, so different from shouting “Whatever!” and slamming the bedroom door? Is moaning that Obama doesn’t emote enough or get sufficiently angry so different from screaming, “You don’t understand!!!”
What headline writers a generation or two ago called the Silent Majority has become the Angry Majority. And we should have seen this coming.
Both Bush and Obama, believing that their elections gave them mandates for seismic change, yanked the nation away from the center, which Bill Clinton, despite the morass of his personal life, knew was the place to be.
Thanks to these dramatic political lurches—and aided by the exponential magnification of the Internet and the seething blogosphere, and with the martinets at the command center at Fox News marshaling forces—the fringe has achieved considerable purchase on the middle ground. Indeed, the fringe has almost become mainstream.
When Americans refer to 9/11 as the day the world changed, they should be mindful of what London went through in the early days of the Second World War. On September 7, 1940, 348 Luftwaffe bombers crossed the English Channel. They were over London by late afternoon and for the next two hours ignited the city with incendiary bombs. That same evening, the Germans were back, raining 625 tons of high explosives on East London.
The Blitz (from the German Blitzkrieg, for “lightning war”) went on for 57 consecutive nights and then spread to other cities in the U.K.
It was estimated that by May of the next year more than 43,000 people had died in the strategic air raids. The English, being the English, just got on with it. A survey taken during this period found that weather had a greater impact than air raids on the day-to-day worries of many Londoners. As Gardiner observes, “egg rationing produced more emotion than the blitz.”
Her last book, Seabiscuit, published nine years ago, was a masterpiece of nonfiction narrative, and made for a pretty terrific movie too. Unbroken is a more than worthy follow-up. In it, Hillenbrand tells the story of Louie Zamperini, a former Olympic track star for the U.S. who at 23 came close to breaking the four-minute mile. He made a heroic but losing effort in the 5,000 meters at the Berlin Games, in 1936, and would have been a gold-medal contender at the planned 1940 Tokyo Olympics had they not been canceled because of the war.
Louie entered the service a few months before Pearl Harbor. Serving as a bombardier in the Pacific, he and the rest of his B-24 crew set out from Hawaii on May 27, 1943, on an emergency search-and-rescue mission. Louie wouldn’t set foot on American soil again for almost two and a half years. His wartime saga began, as does our excerpt, with a plane crash, followed by an almost unbelievably harrowing experience adrift on a life raft in the middle of the Pacific.
He and two fellow airmen battled starvation, eating only the occasional raw albatross or fish. Zamperini’s story is certainly one of the most remarkable survival tales ever recorded. What happened after that is equally remarkable. Do yourself and the publishing industry a favor and buy the book after you read our excerpt, “Adrift but Unbroken.”
When you consider what this one man endured, or the entire city of London, whatever annoyances are bothering you, whatever problems you have in your own life, will seem minor by comparison.
America, you have it pretty damned good. Smile.