I’ve long held that nations can become depressed — or even mentally unbalanced — just as individual people can. Take a look at Germany in the 1930s. That, babies, was one whacked-out country.
In fact, the entire world experienced what I like to describe as a global nervous breakdown in the middle of the past century. Humanity became so deranged that we found justifications for destroying entire cities, employing previously undreamed of technologies. We all know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but several of the firebombings of Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg, and many, many, many more were as lethal in terms of sheer numbers of humans incinerated as the two nuclear bombings in Japan.
When Gen. Curtis LeMay, the US Army’s air chief, was asked in early summer 1945 how long the war might last, he replied it’d end sometime in the fall. By that time, he reasoned, there would be no more Japanese cities left for his Air Corps to bomb.
Of course, our war mania was driven by the war manias of Germany, Japan, Italy, Romania, Hungary, and the Soviet Union. We like to tell ourselves that our bloodlust was in the service of good while their’s was evil. That’s true. But, man, we took war mania to a whole other level, didn’t we?
After some 60-75 million people were slaughtered during World War II, we could pat ourselves on the back and say at least the evil Nazis and warrior-mentality Japanese were thwarted. That’s true, too. Yet, we found ourselves aligned with an equally ghoulish, sadistic gang of hoodlums in Joseph Stalin’s USSR. And then, next thing we knew, the two of us — the US and the Soviets — were threatening to, and earnestly preparing to fry the entire planet just to achieve some sort of economic and political superiority.
People used to say, Has the whole world gone mad? Well, the answer then was, Hell yeah!
And, guess what: we’re going off our rocker once again.
World War II came in a paroxysm of violence and terror. It started in 1937 with Japan’s vicious incursion into China and ended in Tokyo Bay when Hirohito’s representatives signed the surrender instrument aboard the USS Missouri in September, 1945. Eight years. Perhaps a long time in terms of the lifetime of a cat or dog, but the blink of an eye considering the hard and time-consuming work of snuffing out the lives of tens of millions of human beings.
Today’s insanity threatens to wipe out a number of us that’ll dwarf WWII’s total. And we have a choice of poisons: slow death by global climate change or a quick end by worldwide nuclear holocaust.
Oh, you forgot about the Bomb, didn’t you? There remain tens of thousands of nuclear weapons sitting in silos, resting on racks in submarines, filling arsenal warehouses, and even being built in the garages and labs of loners entertaining a death wish for much of the life on this planet.
We may not think of these twin swords of Damocles during every waking moment of our lives. Yet, the perils they represent surely reside in our subconscious, driving our thoughts and feelings.
Making us…, well, crazy.
America, this holy land, years ago began to hurt itself, the way a psychologically troubled teen mutilates herself or drugs himself into oblivion. The most obvious symptom of this is the epidemic of mass shootings. It’s gotten to the point where the next mass shooting, be it in a school, a mall, a church, a statehouse, or a daycare center, will be nothing more than simply another mass shooting. No surprise. No Shock. Just way things are in 21st Century America.
That ain’t normal. That ain’t sane.
The teen girl with slashed wrists and the teen boy with glassy eyes are merely the most dramatic, outward signs of their years-long internal suffering, the psychological and emotional strife they’ve endured for far too long. Our weekly mass shootings are the same thing. A clear, unmistakable playing-out, a panicky attempt to communicate to the world what pain we’ve been holding in for years and years. Decades, even.
And if the rest of us aren’t running around opening fire with our AK-47s or what in the hell else is the rapid-fire death machine of the moment, that doesn’t mean we haven’t slipped into a mental crisis as well.
Americans are depressed right now as never before. The future, we agree, looks dim. No matter which side of the political fence you stand on, you see the other side as the arch villain harbinger of the end of civilization. So our elections now are life and death battles rather than course corrections. Our young people aren’t hopeful for a good job or a home of their own. Global warming’s going to bake us or drown us or otherwise turn us into a pathetic band of survivalists. The blacks and the Mexicans and the Moslems and whoever else is not us is just around the corner, hordes of them, fixing to steal all our hard-earned wealth and possessions, and they hope, to kill us once that’s accomplished. The feminists want to stop every woman from becoming a mother; the anti-abortionists want force every woman to be a mother.
What’s the use? Why go on?
You want proof we’re pathologically depressed? Polls show that young people are having sex less now than at any time in decades. Sex, that hopeful, life-affirming refreshment, that act of optimism, of love, of vitality, is becoming a drag. What, again, is the use?
When I turn the radio on each morning to hear the news, I’m bombarded by stories of racism, environmental catastrophe, personal violence, corporate crime, political corruption, misogyny, and more. There was a time when the news told us we were rocketing to the moon or developing affordable computers everyone could have or seeking a cure for cancer or even just winning the most gold medals at the Olympics.
Not so in 2022. We aspire to nothing. We have no aims. We’re only getting emotionally prepared for Armageddon.
We’re messed up and either we fix our heads — and damned soon — or we go flat-out bonkers. All of us. This time humanity isn’t going to stop at merely slashing our wrists, snorting some meth, or killing only a few tens of millions of us.