Tuesday, July 3, 2012

American Birds at Their Finest

There has been so much turbulence in the American political scene lately, and it seems any pensions for moderation have been long lost. Allegations of left-wing socialism and right-wing fanaticism are commonly, derisively exchanged in the American forum, and a preoccupation with the purported evil of the opposition often detours any cooperation. So seldom now are political discussions about the means to an agreeable end; so often are they diatribes to further cement diametrical ideologies. Defining, categorizing, and simplifying, most often along political, racial, and religious guidelines are the methods of the day. With the ill-will between political factions and identities at an amazing high, it is important on this Independence Day to remember those moments of excellent inter-political cooperation, when Americans were still able to form that more perfect union in the pursuit of goodness and happiness. 

Such was the case with the famous 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift, perhaps the most brusque outburst of American initiative, ingenuity, unity, and kindness in the entire 20th century. With the close of World War II, the German capital of Berlin was divided into different sections of control among the allied powers. However, the city itself was entirely enclosed and isolated in the larger Soviet-controlled portion of Germany. By blockading all railways and roads into Berlin and starving the city, the Soviets hoped to stimulate enough discontent that an uprising would occur in Berlin that would empower radical communist government and catalyze the communization of Germany proper. It was a very blunt, very real threat, and one which promised to reignite conflict in war-torn Europe. Would the united States send in the troops and bombers and go to war with the USSR? Would it acquiesce and leave Berlin in a state of starving isolation? There were many arguments and many opinions over the proper course of action. There were not massive advertising campaigns, speaking tours, or kitschy celebrity dinners. Politicians did not focus on developing their cults of personality, but instead on decisive action.

A Democrat president, Harry Truman, and a majority Republican legislature signed the Marshall Plan into effect, and from June 24th, 1948, until May 12th, 1949, the Allied airlift kept the badly damaged German capital, which was meeting only 2% of its vital production needs, supplied with adequate food and coal until the blockade was lifted by the much-shamed Soviets. A total of 278,228 flights, flying a total 92 million miles, provided 13,000 tons of food and 26,000 tons of coal per day to Berlin. At its height the airlift actually brought more supplies into the city, per day, than had been brought previously by ground. The Americans continued the Airlift through the exceptionally harsh winter of 1949, and ran it so precisely that one plane departed for Berlin from an Allied base every 30 seconds. The United States dropped 1,783,573 tons food and coal, at a total cost of $224 million, which if adjusted to modern inflated standards equals around $2 billion. For less than the cost of what the U.S. pays Israel and Pakistan annually to not fight each other today, the United States kept Berlin fed, heated, and out of communist control, and did it all by plane. 

Independence Day is something of a bittersweet holiday now. It always prompts a heavy dose of nostalgia and disappointment with the contemporary state of things, not just with political issues but the disjointedness and polemics in society today. There was a time when objective, eminent goods were easily recognized, and party politics were kept secondary. Now it seems the American political and social dialogue has broken down, though the threats to life, liberty and happiness, have not. The same pride and perseverance that shocked the world with the Berlin airlift, appears to be shockingly dwindling today.

Of course, it does little good to just be pessimistic and mopey on Independence Day. By all means, the barbecues should be lit and the coolers should be stocked. I will feel great pride today as I remember and recount these stories of American bravado, and hope that the future will not be without a few more.

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