Lately I've been aging myself a lot. Or perhaps I just feel it more acutely because the odometer made another turn on Monday. But with classes full of students born between 1995-1999 it's amazing the things I find myself having to explain lately, like what "cable TV" means as opposed to traditional network TV. Give it another decade and the kids raised on streaming and on-demand won't even know the basics of how TV delivers content. Sunrise, sunset.
It has really increased my interest, though, in taking advantage of more opportunities coming my way to write about things that the current under-30 generation remembers only hazily or not at all. Since I was all of four or five when it happened, there is a huge swath of Americans out there who have never heard of the latest thing I'm trying to pitch: the 1983 invasion of Grenada.
Yes, the time that the United States invaded a pitifully small country explicitly to cheer itself up. Because our fee-fees were hurting from Vietnam. And since Reagan was president and "Woo! U-S-A #1!" passed for a policy white paper in those days, we didn't even try especially hard to make up a cover story for doing so. We settled on "They have a runway Soviet bombers could use" without mentioning that Canada and Britain built it for them, not Russia, and "There are some American students at a medical school campus there" without mentioning that they were in no danger whatsoever and, like the State Department routinely has to do, they could have simply been loaded onto a plane and evacuated if necessary.
Let's just say it wasn't a good cover story and leave it at that. The real reason was to give couch potato America something to cheer about. It was a sad spectacle. You have to squint pretty hard to look at the invasion and overthrow of a tiny island with a population the size of Joliet, IL and see a great military accomplishment. It was the equivalent of LeBron James playing one-on-one with a six year-old. But that didn't stop the Reagan administration for whooping a high-fiving like it was V-J Day or something. Nineteen Americans and around 100 Grenadian and Cuban personnel died. One military commander famously said American troops were at far greater risk of being shot by one another than by the opposition.
In hindsight it reads a bit like a preview of Trumpism. Politically the comparisons are thin; compared to the current mess, Reagan's administration looks like Churchill's war cabinet. But the core part of the electorate that so loved Reagan – the suburbanites and "Reagan Democrats" were that decade's version of "White Working Class" trope today – is the same part of our society that is responding so well to Trump. They were and are exactly the kind of people who would think starting a war to show everyone (read: mostly themselves) that America still kicks ass is a good idea. It's the kind of person to whom it would never occur that people dying (not to mention millions upon millions being spent) to provide what is essentially a national pep rally for impotent middle-aged white men who associate military power with self-esteem and virility may not be worth it. That beating up a country that didn't have an air force so that people butthurt about Vietnam could feel big and strong again was, well, pretty goddamned pathetic.
At the time it was kind of a blip. It was over almost as soon as it began. Looking back, it looks like a preview of everything that would prove to be a nightmare about 21st century American politics.