The Pathetic Generation

11/22/2010 08:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

That would be my generation. Tom Brokaw famously referred to the generation that faced the Great Depression and won the Second World War and Cold War as the greatest generation. My generation too faces great challenges: the Islamic menace and the Great Recession being our war and depression. As Senator Rick Santorum says "the threat of Islamic fascism is just as menacing as the threat from German Nazism and Soviet Communism." And as Paul Krugman says somewhat more wordily "there were only two eras in economic history that were widely described as 'depressions' at the time: the years of deflation and instability that followed the Panic of 1873 and the years of mass unemployment that followed the financial crisis of 1929-31...We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression."

It appears that humankind cannot survive without challenge. And if there is no challenge to be found, we must invent one. For the bored stay-at-home mother with a nanny and full-time maid a simple dinner party for a few friends becomes a logistic event rivaling the D-Day landing at Normandy. Even as her rich retired lawyer husband freezes to death attempting to scale Mt. Everest.

So apparently it is with nations and with generations. In World War II we faced down 13 million soldiers, 30,000 tanks and 100,000 aircraft. And the Germans didn't have to steal science and technology from us: they invented guided missiles and jet aircraft. In the Cold War we faced down 6,000 nuclear warheads of several megatons each mostly mounted on missiles with a range of over 6,000 miles.

The Islamo-fascists? How many divisions do they have? Strictly speaking they have zero nuclear warheads. The Islamic world broadly defined has about about 80. Most are delivered by fighter-bombers with a range of a few hundred miles, but a few are delivered by missiles with a range of around 2,000 miles. Big these bombs are not: they have about 1/40th of the explosive power of a Soviet warhead.

Of course there are so many Muslims! Almost 25% of the world population. Which is to say about the same fraction of the world population as in the communist bloc at the height of the cold war. The threat of dozens of squabbling, poor, and largely unarmed nations - most of which are favorably disposed towards us -- is hard to compare to the threat of a few large well armed and not at all well-disposed nations. Of course those Islamo-fascists are sneaky! They may be poorly armed, but they attack us under the belt with terrorist raids. Why they've killed slightly more Americans in 30 years than the Germans did each week during the Second World War. And of course those Communists weren't sneaky at all, as anyone who can look up "Red Brigades" on Wikipedia must know.

Well granted -- the threat of "Islamo-fascism" isn't much of a threat at all. But at least when it comes to depressions we have the "greatest" generation beat. Why we have unemployment of nearly 10% and our GDP fell by almost 5%! And the "Great" Depression? Their unemployment was only...25%? And GDP fell by only...30%?

I was a child during the Cold War -- and grew up with the reality that at a touch of a button our genuinely evil enemies could wipe all human life off the face of the earth. So you will excuse me if I do not wish to sacrifice my liberty and honor because today our equally evil enemies -- if they got extremely lucky -- might be able to wipe out a small part of Manhattan.