1945-46 was a busy time in high places. A year earlier we were singing, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. Now the hit song was, Chi Baba, Chi Baba and soon the Hit Parade would be topped by Patti Page singing, Changing Partners.
The U. S. was frantically changing partners. Our new best friends, Germany and Japan, were yesterday’s vile enemies. Russia, our former ally, was now the hated one. We were in a race with the U.S.S R. grabbing Germany’s best scientists. We got Wernher von Braun who Tom Lehrer captured in his lyric, Once the rockets go up / who cares where they come down. / That’s not my department says Wernher von Braun. As late as March 1945 his V-2 rockets were raining down on London killing more than 3,000.
For the bewildered, early teenager that I was our embrace of the former Axis powers felt like an enormous act of forgiveness. The enmity against our old friend more like a divorce.
When a country learns to hate on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it can remarkably find forgiveness by Thursday and Friday. By the weekend we demonize another people. I predict Iran will be our buddies in a decade or two; maybe even a destination for quirky Bar Mitzvahs.
It would seem that we need someone to hate. Ahab had his Moby Dick and Sherlock was shadowed by Moriarty. Both, perhaps, projections of themselves.
Matters are not so black and white…unless one is talking about Byron White and Hugo Black. Black was appointed in 1937 to the Supreme Court by FDR. He was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan but turned out to be one of the most liberal judges during his 34 years on the bench. White was a JFK appointee and voted the wrong way on Roe v Wade and the Miranda decision. One never knows.
Nations change; people change. Therein lies hope. Japan, in a gesture of friendship, gifted the U.S., in 1912, with seedlings for over 3,000 cherry trees. They were our staunch ally in World War I. Twenty-three years later we were bombing each other to smithereens. After the war we replaced their ruined trees with cuttings and they returned the favor when many of our trees died a few decades later.
Today we seem more polarized than at any time since the Civil War. But suppose the polarities are not on a straight line but a curved one close to meeting their counterpart. I marvel at the Trump administration embracing Russia. Unthinkable forty years ago. The populist themes of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump drew some of the same audience.
New configurations may be the order of the day. The world won’t hold still for a minute as Bob Dylan noted.
Change may not yet be blowing in the wind but there is a stirring of discontent which could be where wind comes from.