HELP WANTED….Our founding editor, Charlie Peters, often bemoans the feeble grasp of history that plagues most everyone under the age of 50, and particularly the editors he has nurtured over the past few decades. When he sat down to write his latest book, Five Days in Philadelphia, he hoped to bring at least one crucial period in American history to the attention of the young, unmoored-from-history, masses. Alas, he is not sure he accomplished this task, so he sends us this missive:
When I began this book, my main motive was to restore Wendell Willkie to the place in history that he deserved by demonstrating his crucial role as the Republican leader gave a Democratic president the courage to make politically dangerous decisions in an election year, decisions that were vital to the survival of democracy. As I was writing the book, however, I realized there were differences between the country in 1940 and the way it is today that I wanted to explain so that young people would understand that we can do better, a lot better than we?re doing now.
But I have failed. Although the book was generously reviewed and I have received far more enthusiastic phone calls, letters and emails from readers than for any of my eight other books, I?ve had to face the fact that except for a handful from younger Monthly alumni, these messages came from no one recognizably under 35.
So I ask for your help and advice in figuring out how to reach these young people, and urge you to write me with your advice care of the Monthly. The points I want to emphasize most are that we can have leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, we can be willing to sacrifice by drafting ourselves into military service and paying higher taxes. We can have a dominant Christianity that supports liberal programs, and we can have a country where too many people seem not to be trying to demonstrate that they are richer, smarter and have better taste than the next guys, but where instead they?re trying to find common ground with their fellow citizens. It can happen, because it did happen. We can not only do better, we can be better. Not that we won?t still be recognizably human, with our share of failings. Even FDR had his weaknesses. But they and we were able to rise to behavior characterized by considerably more idealism and generosity than is evident today.