The Lost Decade

O.K. This is bit late but I think I finally have a name for the decade we just lived through. Sure, it took me till the last day — of the last month —– of the last year but I think this will work. Reposted with permission from Steven Leibo’s SageThoughts.

Perhaps I should back up. When you teach courses on modern international history and politics [as Steve does], it becomes obvious that students need some core ideas to organize their studies around. What I mean are the key ideas that help them get a sense of the larger themes. So they won’t get bogged down in the details. Sure such labels never capture the full sense of an era but they can offer a handle to help understand the larger dimensions of a particular time.

What I am referring to of course are those terms historians use from the Belle Époque to the gilded age, from the horrors of the first age of World War to the era of global depression.

Not forgetting what I often call to the “Devil’s Decade” of the late thirties to the mid 1940s. And who can forget the sixties with their obvious rejection of the most revered conventional attitudes towards everything from sex to race dramatized of course by all those youth revolts from Berkeley to Paris and Mexico City.

Or the Reagan/Thatcher years with their rejection of the post World War II Western drift toward social democracy. And of course those larger time blocks from the Cold War decades to the era of decolonization.

Finally rounding off the 20th century with what started out as that most awkward “Post Cold War” era which eventually morphed ever so logically in the internet charged age of “Globalization.”

But I have never been able to come up with something that quite fits the last ten years. The 2000s, what did one call them? But now with a bit of hindsight I’ve got it. Yes, we’re just finishing up the “lost decade” a decade of lost opportunities from advancing democracy to capitalizing on the scientific advances and warnings.

A decade when the Russians so recently freed from the chains of the Soviet Union walked blindly into the authoritarian arms of Vladimir Putin. While Americans not only allowed a candidate into the White House who had not been chosen by the American people, they failed to even get indignant enough to follow through by getting rid of the albeit constitutional but deeply anti-democratic Electoral College.

Dramatic mistakes which were followed up, of course, by the Bush administration’s incompetent handling of all those obvious and well publicized warnings that a horrific assault was being planned on the United States of America.

Not forgetting the understandably motivated but incompetently implemented move against the terrorist camps in Afghanistan and the even more clumsily handled distraction in Iraq.

All of which handicapped the United States’ need to transition ourselves into the increasingly globalized new century with an embrace of the emerging scientific and engineering accomplishments from stem cells to green energy.

Significant issues all – but it’s likely that by the mid 21st century it seems altogether certain that none of those loses are going to matter to the next generation of historians or their students.

No, the true meaning of our just lost decade is more certain to focus on that decade of losers who allowed the major carbon polluters from the United States to China and India to dither while their carbon emissions increasingly unset the delicate global temperature balance.

Even as the UN’s own climate change effort trapped itself in a decision making process that focused more on economic justice rather than actually fighting the catastrophic climatic disasters headed our way.

Resulting in our lost decade rather than ten precious years when we might have made real progress in repairing the damage that we have done to our planetary atmospheric system. In fact, I think it is safe to say that by about 2050 most of the planet will be ruefully wishing they could have our recently discarded “lost decade” back.

Dr. Steven A. Leibo is a professor of International History & Politics At the Sage Colleges

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