The Salem News
---- — You who are old, and have fought the fight, and have won or lost or left the fight,
Weight us not down with fears of the world, as we run!
Cale Young Rice
When I wrote the above demand into my quote notebook, I was young and annoyed by fearful advice from my elders. I try not to be pessimistic around younger people, which is easy because I’m optimistic by nature. In fact, the one time I was invited to be a commencement speaker, years ago, at a dental hygiene school, I may have shared the Rice quote, along with congratulating the graduates on choosing a profession that would make people smile more.
But now I notice that at many colleges, speakers are disinvited by students who should still be eager to learn, instead of just believing everything some liberal professors taught them. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes that while there have always been protests, what has changed is “the willingness of colleges and speakers to give in ... many apparently voluntary withdrawals are made at the college’s urging.”
For this distorted kind of “education,” some parents/students go tens of thousands into debt? So, I am disregarding Mr. Rice and offering this commencement speech to 2014 college graduates, from someone who is still fighting the fight:
Hey, kids, listen up. I’ve got some serious “fears of the world” for you to run with. Here are three that scare me on behalf of my grandchildren.
1. Your economic future. If you studied something for which graduates are in demand, then maybe it was worth the level of debt some of you are carrying. However, if, like me, you studied what interested you at the time, with no thought about viable professions and, unlike me, borrowed to do it (I quit when I ran out of cash), what were you THINKING? Add to the need to repay your college loans the fact that you each owe $55,000 toward the (so far) $17.5 trillion national debt, and may someday have to pay tax increases to cover a) federal government spending when no country can or will lend us more, and b) unfunded liabilities at the state and local level. Unfairly, you’ll keep paying into the Social Security/Medicare systems with little chance of ever receiving your share of services.
2. Superbugs, etc. When I was in college, many diseases had been almost eradicated in the United States, including polio, pertussis and tuberculosis (TB), and everywhere, smallpox was vanishing. Miracle antibiotics were available to kill most bacteria. Now, because of more common world travel and undocumented (not-vaccinated) immigration, some old diseases like TB, and new ones like bird flu and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, are becoming threats here. Thanks to the misuse of antibiotics, we are seeing the growth of antibiotic-resistant germs, bringing the possibility of a modern plague that our medical profession can’t handle. Just going to the hospital adds risk of infection to whatever initially causes the visit.
On the subject of disease, let’s worry about the viruses attacking bees and bats, which play a vital role in our ecosystem, including the part that grows our food and battles insects. While worrying about food, worry about genetically modified crops, then toss in my long-standing general concern about population growth, as the world population heads for eight billion by 2030. I know some conservatives see little problem with this; it’s hard for me to see how it can NOT soon become a problem. And it’s also hard for me to imagine that there’s no environmental impact from all these people, many of them wasteful. Even if there is climate change, and good luck, graduates, sorting out THOSE conflicting arguments, when it happened seriously in the past, it affected only a few humans who could migrate from cold to warm, from drought to damp, away from rising seas, perhaps without running into hostile “others.”
3. Here’s the big one that has me seriously scared. Last month, I saw an old friend, Warren Norquist, once a Westinghouse engineer, being interviewed on local access TV. He’s become an expert on EMP — electromagnetic pulse — which I’d heard of but it seemed a remote concern, like climate change. (Yes, I saw this week’s headlines, “Antarctic ice sheet rapidly collapsing,” but if you read the story you learn that “rapidly” means “possibly within a couple of centuries.”)
But now we learn that EMP is a more immediate threat, like the issue that scared my youthful generation: nuclear war. My first year of college, we watched news reports of the Cuban missile crisis, which, we’ve learned recently as Russia released its once-secret documents, did come close to nuking some of the East Coast.
The EMP occurs if a terrorist enemy detonates a nuclear weapon above our atmosphere, destroying all electric grids and microcircuitry in the United States — in effect blasting us back to the 18th century. Planes would fall immediately from the sky. Vehicles manufactured after 1970 couldn’t run — this includes those delivering our drugs and our food. While people wouldn’t be affected as they were in Japan by WWII nuclear radiation, I’ve seen an estimate that 90 percent of our population would die the first year, either from lack of essential supplies or by raids from desperate people on what we do have.
Didn’t mean to scare you too much, graduates. Fear No. 3, with help from Fear No/ 2, would basically wipe out any need to fear much else: American civilization would essentially end, and the rest of the world would have to deal with terrorists and disease without us.
More optimistically, all of the above can be addressed, though not easily: If you want to come back here next week, I’ll share some ideas.
Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.