The generation of kids who are now college-aged came up in the middle of a losing streak. America lost to Osama bin Laden on September 11, 2001, and continued to lose as it bowed under the pressures of war and fear. The losing streak was what they knew, and it has formed their world view. They don’t have the relative comfort that even I do, at age 30, that comes with the ability to draw from the long memory of a pre-terror United States. The generation’s default stance is, therefore, one of defensiveness and fear, symbolically calcified in opposition to an evasive mastermind who posed an indeterminate danger.
In the same way that a World Series win for an historic loser represents, with a single swipe, the quick end to long suffering, this generation of kids places a significance on the capture or killing of bin Laden that trumps the nuance of foreign affairs, or the cynicism of older folks who have seen enemies and crises come and go. That much became clear with the news footage of their celebrations, even if it has been overlooked by someone like me.
And it was with some cynicism that I tried to detect traces of irony among the kids celebrating in front of the White House after President Obama announced the successful secret ops mission in Pakistan. There was one guy dressed up as Hulk Hogan who threatened the sincerity of the crowd, but after watching for some time, I decided that the ebullience of those who had gathered was authentic. It was a young sort of excitement, from people who haven’t known anything different. They know little outside of this world that we live in now, and their celebration reflects their reality.
Part of their world now is the absence of certainty. American wars are questionable and indeterminate, leaders are fallible, morality is clouded. President Obama’s announcement, in light of the last decade’s fog, offered certainty. I have never heard anyone say, “You know, we may be treating bin Laden a bit harshly.” He is the unquestioned villain of our age, and his death is a benefit to mankind. Victory is unquestioned, and these kids are not sitting around to question it, but taking to the streets to celebrate a victory in a way that they’ve rarely been afforded.
What light can sport shed on such crucial international developments? In sport, and in baseball, winning washes away failure. Eight innings of shit gives way to one inning of excellence. Communities need such short memories to survive and prosper, the way a closer’s work requires that his memory extend no further back than his breakfast. Our brains can only hold so much poison before they perish, and it needs tricks to staunch the flow. While the world boils, we allow ourselves the luxury of a short memory, and we call it baseball.