Veterans Day Meditation: An Ode to My Father
I am writing this Daily Prophecy as a meditation for Veterans Day.
When I think of veterans, my mind instantly dwells on my father, Richard Watson Gilder, who never lived to be a veteran.
He was lost over the Atlantic in 1942 leading a squadron of Flying Fortresses to the European War. After graduation from Harvard in 1936, he had visited Germany and seen Hitler rouse a crowd to bellicose rage.
Concluding that the US would have to fight the Nazis, he became something of a futurist. Determining that the war would be decided by airpower, he entered civilian flight training to prepare. He also joined the Council on Foreign Relations in New York where he memorably debated Allen Dulles and other opponents of early entry into the war.
That knowledge prompted some of my interest in technology. The Flying Fortress was an unsuccessful effort to merge a bomber with fighting capabilities. In the process of crafting what today we might call a “kludge,” an overly complex and faulty design, we produced an aircraft that could not reliably cross the Atlantic Ocean in a storm.
I never knew my father at all. As a matter of fact, I never much-allowed anyone to talk to me about him because it made me feel uneasy. I felt that when they described his extraordinary virtues, somehow by extension they were praising me.
I was embarrassed that my own active military career mostly ended with six months in the US marine reserves after flunking out of Harvard following my freshman year in 1958. Although I spent six subsequent years attending reserve meetings and summer camps, my service occurred far from any military front.
History Repeats Itself
I did know my father was a writer and editorial chairman of the Harvard Crimson. The only sample of his work I saw was a once-famous front-page editorial he wrote for the Crimson to greet Franklin Roosevelt on his arrival at Harvard’s 1936 Tercentennial celebration.
My father wrote:
“Let the presence of this man in the White House at the time of our great tercentenary celebration serve as a useful antidote to the natural overemphasis on Harvard’s successes.”
The hostility to Roosevelt reminds me today that the current uproar over a President is hardly unprecedented and that history is full of unexpected twists and turns. As I read Newt Gingrich’s Trump vs. China, a call-to-arms against the ascendant Asian power, I recalled my father’s similar rhetoric about Nazi Germany.
Is it possible that China poses a similar threat? Such is the message conveyed by constant citation of so-called “reeducation camps” in Xinjiang province and a “surveillance state” carried out through advanced artificial intelligence and facial recognition tools.
As an advocate of facial recognition as preferable to alternative security methods, I had praised Chinese AI advances. Surely an airport where all faces were recognized would be safer and more pleasant than US gauntlets of Transportation Security Administration procedures.
But I had to wonder how my father would have reacted.
A couple of days later, I received in the mail a new Chinese edition of Scandal of Money. This book comes in the wake of previous publications this year of Knowledge&Power and Wealth and Poverty, following the best-selling success of the Chinese best-selling edition of Life After Google. I am now repeatedly invited by various institutions and businesses to speak in China about my information theory of economics.
If the Chinese Communists remain doctrinaire socialists who control everything in China, why would they allow publication of this series of books celebrating capitalism?
If China is a mostly capitalist power that wishes to become dominant in world trade, do we really wish to stop them? What better goal could they adopt?
As an investor in US technology companies, the idea of cutting off this giant market and source of innovation seems deeply shortsighted.
From my point of view, the defense of the US has to be accomplished first in the US, in a way that does not jeopardize the future of our economy.
Regardless of our preferences, China graduates millions more engineers than we do, has a smaller government as a share of GDP, and conducts at least twice as many initial public offerings as the US.
This is not the signature of a doctrinaire anti-capitalist power.
On Veterans Day, it behooves us to figure out a way to live with this country in a peaceful and prosperous world.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy