Funny how the background/foreground thing works. I know that things that suddenly grab my attention are there in the background all the time and I don't notice them until something snaps them into focus, but I swear it seems like somebody sneaks them into the world when I'm not looking.
I've been re-reading Sherwood's Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, and the other day my wife was in the office, listening to Terry Gross interview Tim Weiner, the author of Enemies: A History of the FBI. As I listened to the interview in the background, what struck me right off was that Ms. Gross, who I think may be the best interviewer who ever lived and is at the top of my list of people I'd like to interview, seemed to be having a hard time getting her head around the fact that J. Edgar Hoover may have done some things that needed to be done, and may have done them in the only way they could have been done. (The way she closes the interview with a conversation between Hoover and L.B.J. makes me think she was actually giving me time to get my head around that possibility.)
I flipped to the index of Sherwood's book and found that Hoover was only mentioned twice: once in relation to a report the FBI sent Roosevelt about a dinner Hopkins attended in England, and again in relation to the fact that Hoover was decorated by the British after WWII "for exploits which could hardly be advertised at the time."
I've become convinced lately that I was born and grew up during America's very best years, between 1939, when America was finally coming out of the Great Depression and about to enter WWII, and the Seventies, when America began to fall apart. I'm sure other generations have felt and will feel the same way about their time in the sun; even my daughter, as she commutes in an armored SUV between her fortified apartment complex and her office in the secure zone -- whatever color it is that year -- may have the feeling that her America is the best America that ever was. But I think of the war years, the post-war boom of the Fifties and Sixties, and the rise and fall of the Counter Culture as a rush to the top of the world, followed by a slow decline, a breaking up and drifting apart that has literally torn holes in the fabric of our society.
And I'm glad the generation that came before mine and included flawed men like J. Edgar Hoover held America together as long as they did, and sad that my own generation let go of her hand.