A view of our future: NORAD as a tourist destination

Here are two views of the future of Colorado Springs, and of America.

In a Facebook thread, Robert Nemanich opined that my predictions of continued growth and prosperity for Colorado Springs might be off the mark.

“John,” Robert wrote, “conditions can and will change. One could say that Detroit’s growth was precipitous until the 1980s, when the auto industry flattened. The same can be said for the cities of Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, many cities … there needs to be an underlying factor. What was (our) economic factor? I came here because of doctor’s orders, my wife’s family came here in the 1930s (summer) to avoid polio epidemic scares (Chipeta Park) but most have come here either for technology in the 1990s (or to work for) the military-industrial complex.

Both those factors are flat now. The overall economy is flat without any initiator. As for SDS, what essentially you are advocating is for the community to finance more water for growth that places more burden on the community at-large (and) is not sustainable.”

Taking the opposite tack, New York Times columnist David Brooks believes that we’re entering a time of unparalleled growth, prosperity and national well-being.

“Over the next 40 years,” Brooks wrote, “demographers estimate that the U.S. population will surge by an additional 100 million people, to 400 million over all. The population will be enterprising and relatively young. In 2050, only a quarter will be over 60, compared with 31 percent in China and 41 percent in Japan. This growth will change the national landscape.

Over the next 40 years urban downtowns will continue their modest (and perpetually over-hyped) revival, but the real action will be out in the compact, self-sufficient suburban villages. Many of these places will be in the Sunbelt. In sum, the U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival, built on its historic strengths. The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It’s always excelled at decentralized community-building. It’s always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down.”

I agree with Brooks, but Nemanich may be right, as well.

During the last seven years, this country has been at war. Do any of us believe that we will still be at war seven years hence? More to the point, do any of us support a state of perpetual warfare?

By any set of metrics, wars make little economic sense. War diverts the nation’s resources from productive to unproductive uses, and consumes the attention of whatever administration is in power. Since Korea, wars have poisoned our national dialogue, and created bitter and lasting political divisions.

The prosperous, expansive, entrepreneurial, communitarian country that Brooks envisions cannot simultaneously be a garrison state, ready to commit hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women to endless, indecisive conflicts. Now that we know the “unknown unknowns,” to use Don Rumsfeld’s famously Delphic phrase, did it make sense to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan?

The direction of the current administration seems clear. President Obama, like President Nixon 40 years before him, has supported expansive (and expensive!) social programs, and will exit as soon as possible from our current foreign entanglements. Like Nixon, Eisenhower, and Reagan before him, Obama envisions a peaceful nation benefiting from a cooperative web of alliances with other great and not-so-great powers.

And why not? The new world order has been here for some time. Except for a few rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and stateless actors like Osama bin Whatshisname, there’s nothing on the threat horizon comparable to the Soviet Union or Maoist China. It’s time for cops and spies, not armored divisions; for pilotless aircraft and special forces, not fighter wings and foreign bases; for diplomats and treaties, not threats and ultimatums.

That may mean a roaring new boom for most of America, and economic difficulties for communities like our own, which have relied for generations upon lavish military spending. In a new Pax Obamica, will the nation need NORAD, or Fort Carson, or Schriever? Will we still need 1,000 Air Force Academy graduates every year?

So, with due respect to Nemanich and Brooks, here’s what I expect to see on Nov. 5, 2040, when I’ll celebrate my 100th birthday.

NORAD’s cave in Cheyenne Mountain will be a quaint tourist attraction.

The Air Force Academy will partner with Harvard and Stanford to become America’s pre-eminent university, graduating 200 cadets and 6,000 brilliant students of all nationalities.

Led by the entrepreneurial graduates of Harvard West/Stanford East, our city will be America’s most innovative and prosperous city. Envious delegations from Austin, San Diego and San Francisco will come here for tips on revivifying their own decaying cities.

And like Nixon, you’ll still have me to kick around.

John Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 719-227-5861.