A reader writes:
"How did we get so much dumber in fifty years? And, yes, I am not exempting myself from this assessment. I guess we panicked, didn't we?"
Hogwash. Pearl Harbor wasn't cause for panic? Or the fact that the Nazis had taken over most of Europe? Or that Communism was seen as a viable alternative to liberal democracy in many parts of the world?
The difference, Andrew, is that in 1943 there were still serious ideological and strategic competitors to liberal democracy and the United States. To succeed against these enemies it required a national mobilization and the application of America's best minds to the cause of winning the war and the Cold War that followed. Competition of this type necessarily forces a great power like the United States to be smarter and more rational when it uses military power or, in Darwinian fashion, it will be selected out of the international system.
Fascism and Communism were terrible things, but competition with these systems forced us to be better, smarter, and tougher. A side effect of our current military hegemony is that we have become something of a lazy monopolist. We demand more from our allies and give up less in return. We are free to indulge in ideological fantasies and engage in self-delusion because there is no real competitor out there to take advantage when we do so. We become arrogant because, like all monopolists, we can't imagine our monopoly ever being taken away from us.
Mass-murder in the middle of New York City didn't help either.