Two major issues faced the world in 1951 when Winston Churchill was trying to win back the keys to No.10 Downing Street after his surprise ejection from the prime minister’s residence in 1945.
There was a war in Korea with North Korea attempting to conquer the South; and there was concern that the U.S., with General Douglas MacArthur in command of an American-dominated United Nations military force, might be tempted to use nuclear weapons to win a war it was patently losing. Britain had already assigned 100,000 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel to the United Nations force. (Canada sent 26,000.)
The Labour Party’s campaign raised the spectre of the Korean conflict escalating to a nuclear ending. Figuring the voters would still be anti-war and therefore anti-Churchill, one of Labour’s campaign slogan was: “Whose finger do you want on the trigger?” The voters apprehensively decided that if the nation was again going to war, they would rather have the old warhorse Churchill “on the trigger” than the Labour Party’s Clement Atlee – whom Churchill once described as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” Winston and the Conservatives were re-elected with a narrow majority.
Earlier in April 1951, U.S. President Harry Truman had removed General MacArthur from his command of the Korean War force on the grounds of “insubordination and unwillingness to conduct a limited war.” It was believed the move would silence those who thought MacArthur might dip into the U.S. nuclear arsenal if push came to shove with North Korea’s great ally China.
President Truman, having authorized the use of atomic bombs in WW2 to end a war with Japan, obviously wanted no part of a repeat performance that could start a war with China. But concern remained.
The Korean War continued until 1953 when North and South agreed to an uneasy cease fire, but not to a war-ending truce. South and North Korea are still officially at war. And, the United Nations and the United States still promised the South protection from North Korean invasion.
The current President of the U.S., Donald Trump, openly advances the nuclear threat if North Korea doesn’t stop threatening the South, Japan, U.S. territories and the rest of the world with its newly-acquired nuclear weaponry. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the President has said, “will be met with fire, fury and frankly power which this world has never seen before.”
So here we are decades after my troubled “traditionalist” generation (1946-64) produced the “baby boomers” who grew up fighting for civil rights. The boomers vigorously opposed the North/South Viet Nam war which had replaced the North/South Korean stalemate of 1953, and daily read of, or listened to, cold war threats and counter threats as the great nuclear arms race between Russia and the U.S. chilled the world.
It was a time when duck and cover was not an earthquake drill. Movies like Threads and The Day After – depicting life after a nuclear war – played to somber, silent audiences and Dr. Strangelove left the world laughing – albeit nervously.
When Generation X took over (1965-1980) things hadn’t changed much. The United States was deeply involved in the embarrassing Watergate scandal which led to the pitiful resignation of President Richard Nixon. GenXers had stepped up the pursuit of prosperity and affluence and so-called sexual freedom was replacing morality. Fathers and mothers joined the work force to increase their earning power and a new generation of latch-key children was born. It has been said of GenX that “their perceptions were shaped by growing up having to take care of themselves early and watching their politicians lie and their parents get laid off. (They) came of age when the U.S. was losing its status as the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world.” And wars and rumours of wars continued.
Then came the Millennials, or the Boomer Echoes, or whatever the fancy phrase is for this generation of movers and shakers. They must be shaking their heads if they have read any history at all, and they must be wondering how civilization could have come so far in the past 80 years to have made such little progress running what should be a wonderful world.
The year is 2017, edging quickly to 2018. The once most powerful and richest nation in the world is being pushed off centre stage by homegrown follies. It is again being challenged by small, nuclear-wielding North Korea. A vaudevillian clown, but dangerous president, plays the lead role with unvarnished, arrogant, boastful, shameful, attitudes towards women, people of different races, the sick and less fortunate.His back-up chorus is a duly-elected government lacking the courage, or the conscience, to truly make their country great again; a government that stands silently by ineffectually wondering how best to remove a bully’s finger from the nuclear trigger.
Maybe the rapidly-emerging, next generation, the “robotic generation” can provide the answers that continue to elude their inventors. Hopefully, before the man who now holds the trigger pulls it.