“Wouldn’t it be great if we could go back to the good old days?”
According to some sociologists, I would be classified as a member of “Generation X.” A quick Google search of the term leads to the following unglamorous description:
- the generation born after that of the baby boomers (roughly from the early 1960s to late 1970s), typically perceived to be disaffected and directionless.
My childhood took place during the 1970s. The decade was, in many ways, a depressing one for the United States. It began with the war in Vietnam still raging. The stock market was a mess, having lost almost 50% of its value between January 1973 and December 1974. For the first time in history, the President of the United States was forced to resign his office. Rising unemployment eventually reached double digits, and inflation was out of control. Interest rates were climbing to previously unimaginable levels—reaching a staggering peak of 20% by the spring of 1980. Many people found themselves unable to purchase new cars and homes.
Longing for Simpler Times
It seems only natural that people living in the 70s would have longed for simpler times. The television available at the time seemed to imply those times were the 1950s. Popular shows like Happy Days along with ubiquitous reruns of 1950s era classics like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best impressed in young minds the image of a decade free of worry and fear.
It’s not uncommon today, in light of the multiple current crises facing the country, for people of Generation X to speak nostalgically of the era of the 1950s as the classic American ideal. But, was it really that way?
In a word—no. The 1950s began under the cloud of a potential global nuclear war. The Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb in 1949. In response, U.S. President Harry S. Truman authorized the development of a new hydrogen bomb, completed in 1952. This new weapon was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs the U.S. had dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
This arms race led many Americans to believe a nuclear war could break out at any moment. School children were being shown a film from the civil defense entitled “Duck and Cover” that trained them to seek cover under their desks, purportedly to protect them from burns and injury—though it would have done little good in the event of an actual attack.
A civil war on the Korean Peninsula quickly erupted into a major world conflict. The U.S. joined the side of the South Korean democracy against the Communist North. The Communists were backed by China and the Soviet Union. The weapons being developed at the time threatened the very existence of human civilization.
The U.S. economy was also seeing the first signs of trouble since the end of World War II. There were two financial recessions in the decade, beginning in 1953 and 1958 respectively. On top of all of this lay the ongoing repression of minorities. Jim Crow laws were pervasive in the southern U.S., and segregation remained the law of the land in many areas. The 1950s were far from an idyllic period in U.S. history.
Forgetting Previous Challenges
When living in a time of crisis, it’s easy to forget that previous generations faced unique challenges as well. Our nation’s recent history reminds me of the story of the wandering Israelites who were so afraid to enter Canaan they actually wanted to return to their captivity in Egypt.
The book of Numbers tells the familiar story. God commanded Moses to send one man from each of the twelve tribes to scout out the Promised Land. The men came back with a report of a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). They also reported, however, that the people in the land were giants and would be too powerful to overcome. All but the faithful Joshua and Caleb proclaimed, “We can’t attack the people because they are stronger than we are!” (Numbers 13:31).
Following this negative report, the Israelites said “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:3). Ah, the good old days of captivity in Egypt. How quickly they forgot.
I suppose it’s only natural to long for the “good old days” during difficult seasons. But in reality, the good old days were never like we imagine them. Our time is now. That is God’s plan. The challenges we face today are in a certain sense unique. But they are no more impossible for God’s people to overcome than the warriors living in Canaan.
During the challenging era of the 1950s, evangelists like Billy Graham took advantage of the emerging technology of television to spread the gospel. In this decade, many churches are finding that the internet and streaming technology can help them expand their influence, even when their sanctuary doors are closed. Even during this pandemic, may we continue to be faithful in finding new ways to tell the good news of a risen Savior and share the hope of heaven with a generation of people who desperately need to know the love of Christ.