The term "Chinese Salt Mines" gets thrown around a lot these days, particularly on this blog. Basically, it is a foreboding of doom, indicating that as this country continues to devolve into late Roman Empire-style decadence and weakness, it becomes only a matter of time before invaders from the East decide to take us over and, realizing that our future generations will accomplish nothing positive for the world, they put us all to work mining salt for their delicious, tasty chicken recipes.
Now, am I engaging in pointless histrionics? Hardly! Consider the country we were when we reached our zenith of power in 1945:
1) We had just destroyed two major world empires at the same time. Granted, the Russians and British helped with one of them, but we had to send them ships and supplies for the effort, not the other way around. Once we stepped in, it was only a matter of time before Berlin and Tokyo residents had to learn to speak English--with an American accent.
2) We had finished killing hundreds of thousands of civilians deliberately, and when it was over, put our enemies on the dock for war crimes.
3) We had produced a crazy general (Patton) who, had it not been for an unfortunate jeep accident, would have kept on invading because once you ride a bolt of lightning, you don't slow it down.
Now, I'm not condoning everything we did in that war--much of it quite awful and unnecessary in hindsight--but there was a strong sense of unconquerable power left over after that. Then, just to show we had the random personality switches of Ike Turner, we go and do something nice like buy flowers for our recent victims--except instead of flowers we rebuilt Germany and Japan so that they are only a danger today to those who fear techno music or tentacle porn. And, the Soviets--a nation that lost a tenth of their population to the Nazis and who consider cruelty their national pastime--feared us so much they never dared openly confront us, even while their system fell apart. We were really something back then.
Now, this country fights over whether its government can stand behind its debts, and slowly bleeds out in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, fretting over "nation building". I don't recall MacArthur or Chesty Puller worried about "nation building"--or anything that got in the way of a good killing spree. These days, young men will wear eyeliner and girls' jeans to be "ironic", without having the full bravery of being a bona fide cross dresser--and these would be the raw recruits we'd need to count on to protect our shores from invaders? Our film heroes go from an unapologetic simpleton cowboy (John Wayne, of course) to sparkly vampires. We have to try and cajole our citizens into not stuffing fatty foods into their hungry maws, hoping that calorie counts on menus will do the trick (news flash--they don't), creating an obesity epidemic that would be hilarious if no so pathetic.
What happened to that sense of nationhood, and collective strength mixed with rugged invidualism? Is this inevitable?