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The Bridge to the 21st Century


This book was begun even prior to 1996. The first rantings and ravings that I set forth only acted as a catharsis for myself. The media had classified me—along with millions of others as "the angry white male." I hate to admit it, but they had us pegged. As I began to reflect back, I realized this was not necessarily a bad thing. After I threw away the rantings and ravings of the first manuscript, after I had experienced my own purging, I settled down and was inspired by the presidential elections of 1996. So I began my odyssey of reflecting back on America's past. By the time the presidential election of 2000 occurred, I had most of this book finished. Even so it was startling to me when I read the November 20, 2000, issue of U.S. News & World Report. Kenneth T. Walsh admonished us; "Elections tell us a lot about ourselves, sometimes with breathtaking clarity and in the most vivid colors. The picture revealed on November 7, 2000, was a split image—which was particularly disturbing because it was unveiled so suddenly..." To me, the split image had been developing years earlier. I had already begun a book about it. Why was it so difficult to see? The words of the presidential candidates back in 1996 should have been sufficient to give us a clue.

I do not need the presidency to make or refresh my soul. That false hope, I will gladly leave to others, for greatness lies not in what office you hold, but in how honest you are, in how you face adversity, and in your willingness to stand fast in hard places. Age has its advantages. Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith, and confidence in action. To those that say it was never so, that America has never been better, I say, you're wrong, and I know, because I was there...

Bob Dole's 1996 Acceptance Speech

...Now, here's the main idea. I love and revere the rich and proud history of America, and I am determined to take our best traditions into the future. But with all due respect, we do not need to build a bridge to the past, we need to build a bridge to the future, and that is what I commit to you to do. So tonight let us resolve to build that bridge to the twenty-first century, to meet our challenges and protect our values...We're going to choose the last president of the twentieth century and the first president of the twenty-first century. But the real choice is not that. The real choice is whether we will build a bridge to the future or a bridge to the past, about whether we believe our best days are still out there or our best days are behind us... Let us commit ourselves this night to rise up and build the bridge we know we ought to build all the way to the twenty-first century.

Bill Clinton's 1996 Acceptance Speech

In the hot summer months of 1996, the presidential election was shifting into high gear. The candidates had been chosen by the major political parties. It would be the last hurrah for a "Greatest Generation" presidential candidate. Four years earlier, the baton had already been passed to the "Baby Boomer" generation. Now, William Jefferson Clinton was running as a sitting president. He would be the first Democratic Party presidential candidate to be elected twice in more than half a century. It would only be appropriate that someone his age would take us into the new century—the new millennium.

But I was intrigued by the speeches of both men and what they represented. Right before the nation's eyes, if we listened carefully, we could get a real sense of two Americas. One man was rooted in the past and wanted desperately to bring something he felt, but had difficulty defining, into the future; the other was focused on the future but made it clear he did not want to build a bridge to the past. I was confused! All the bridges on which I have traveled were connectors. A bridge to the future, it would seem, should be strong and wide enough to be a two-way street, bringing the best from the past to build a foundation for the future.

Both men were discussing our soul, the soul of our nation. Mr. Dole couldn't define it, and President Clinton seemed willing to overlook it. While President Clinton "loved and revered the rich and proud" past, he did not want to live it. He came of age in the '60s and was a young adult in the '70s. It was during this time that many citizens entered into a covert, unspoken agreement to amend the Bill of Rights. A New America began to emerge; Old America was becoming passé, obsolete, and unfashionable. A tug-of-war over the soul of our nation began to develop with an imaginary line drawn somewhere between the two Americas. During the course of the last several decades as the "winds of fate" blew, the placement of the line changed from time to time. Then, in 1992, the year William Clinton was elected president, New America became more dominant than ever before. The remnants of Old America would have to reinvent itself and formulate a new game plan. The bottom line was that America was, and still is, at war with itself. Every time we think there is a truce, guerilla warfare begins again.

Just as we are now referring to the Old Economy as distinguished from the New Economy, we need to distinguish and identify the Old America from the New America. The Old America of the twentieth century lasted until about 1960. This Old America was born predominately out of the American Revolution, with traditional values that were handed down through the generations. It was between 1960 and 1965 that a large number of us entered into an unwritten agreement. We wanted to further experiment with the structure of the nation; we wanted to correct some wrongs. Times had changed. The world had changed. Our outlook and priorities had changed. We were a youthful nation. It was an uncharted course, but one we felt compelled to explore. Where would it lead us? Why did we feel so compelled? What has been the result?

That is what this story is about. I have used information from publications and authors, which are listed in the bibliography section. Mostly I have drawn on my own observations along with those who preceded me, who were there when I wasn't. Rather than bring so many people into the book, I have taken "literary license," and included some of those observations under the guise of my grandfather, William Allen Coole. He was born in 1875, served in the Spanish American War, and was wounded in Cuba. He died in 1942, the very year I was born. Symbolically, the torch of life was passed to me. In this narrative, I have extended his life to 1974. That would make him ninety-nine years old at the time he died. This helps pull together time lines and reflections for continuity sake. Being born in 1875, he certainly was a product of Old America. By observing American life through his eyes, perhaps we can better understand the past as it morphed into the present.

The other perspective in this book is my own. I reflect on the past, on the soul of our nation, by remembering my life experiences as well as the musings of prior generations. Interwoven through these reflections are mainstream political, cultural, or social icons that display the quilt-work fabric of America at each stage of our national life. The purpose of this book is to communicate to the reader some insights about ourselves; to better be able to see the broad picture from whence we came; to get a grip on where we are, so that we may be able to determine where we should go.

As we plunge into the new millennium, events will no doubt unfold that will test us. It could come in the form of a collapse in our own national economy. It could come from outside our borders, such as a challenge from Russia, China, or a country with whom we think we have good relations. It has happened before, and it can happen again. Then again, it could be something totally different—something with which we haven't, historically, had to contend. In President Clinton's State of the Union Address in January of 2000, he made a chilling prophesy. It has received little attention. It was about five or six lines in a twenty-one-page report. This is what he said:

I predict to you...the major security threat this country will face will come from enemies of the nation state: the narco-traffickers and the terrorists and the organized criminals, who will be organized together, working together, with increasing access to ever-more sophisticated chemical and biological weapons.

After all, we are now in a new century as well as a new millennium. It is impossible to predict our future journey. Whatever the source of strife in the future, we are in a relative calm at the present. Is it going to be the set of the soul that determines our way, or the calm and the strife that determines our next voyage through life?

Cary W. Coole
Houston, Texas
July 1, 2001