Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, November 9, 2009 6:00 am

Rockin’ in the free world

Twenty years ago tonight, I watched ABC’s “Nightline” with tears in my eyes as the Berlin Wall began coming down on live TV.

“This is it,” I thought. “The Cold War is over. And we won.”

Even though two more years and the first Gulf War would pass before the Soviet Union fell apart after an abortive coup, there was a level of optimism then that is not only hard to describe to those not old enough to remember it, it’s hard even to imagine in our current grim situation. It derived not only from the visible crumbling of the Evil Empire abroad but also the passing of the Reagan era at home, the desirability of which was emphasized even by his Republican successor, George H.W. Bush, who, even as he proclaimed, “The United States is the best and fairest and most decent nation on the face of the earth,” was also promising “a kinder, gentler nation.”

You heard the phrase “peace dividend” tossed around a lot back then. It was both a specific reference to expected savings in the government’s budget from reduced defense expenditures and, relatedly, an expected rise in prosperity derived from the fact that civilian investment generates more jobs than spending the same amount of money on defense.

There was also a more general expectation that we could, after half a century of policing the world, finally turn our full, or nearly full, attention inward to deal with some long-festering problems.

It was about this time that Neil Young released his best album since “Rust Never Sleeps,” if not since the early 1970s. And this song on it, in addition to having “hit single” written all over it, served to remind us of what we still had to face. Unfortunately, in the intervening years, things have only grown worse. And that peace dividend? Well, right now we’re spending as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, and that’s only what’s budgeted — it doesn’t include the off-budget special appropriations.

“Rockin’ in the Free World”

There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign
on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’
we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan,
but I am to them
So I try to forget it,
any way I can.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

I see a woman in the night
With a baby in her hand
Under an old street light
Near a garbage can
Now she puts the kid away,
and she’s gone to get a hit
She hates her life,
and what she’s done to it
There’s one more kid
that will never go to school
Never get to fall in love,
never get to be cool.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler,
Machine gun hand
We got department stores
and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes
for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people,
says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn,
got roads to drive.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

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