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May 2

Written by: Diana West
Friday, May 02, 2008 4:57 AM 

The Death of the Grown-Up has been reviewed in the Spring 2008 edition of the  prestigious Naval War College Review. I must say I feel greatly  honored.

Here is the review by Jeffrey H. Norwitz, Professor of National Security Decision Making:

“Stop, before you hurt yourself! Why?
Because I said so”—a common diktat
from a caring parent to child, about setting
limits on behavior. The historical
role of grown-ups has been to nurture,
protect, and teach fledglings about
self-destructive behavior. So how, then,
is raising children the unifying theme of
a book about the decline of Western

The answer, as Diana West argues convincingly,
is a direct correlation between
decades of moribund moral
norms, owing to vanishing societal maturity,
and America’s inability to grasp
the seriousness of emerging global dangers.
Like a child that keeps playing, unwilling
to obey the call for bedtime,
America is simply not paying attention
to a world of growing challenges. Worse
yet, the author contends, there are no
adults around to take away the toys.
Of course West, an esteemed syndicated
columnist and writer, is not the first to
observe the decline of adult influence or
the erosion of individual responsibility,
nor is she original in excoriating society
and lamenting the erosion of the nuclear
family. Nonetheless, West’s meticulous
assemblage of tangible evidence,
superb research, insightful analysis, and
application of theory to national security
issues make this book
According to West, the gradual “death
of the grown-up” began not with the
revolutionary 1960s but rather directly
following World War II. Business visionaries
saw the exploding generation
of youth as future consumers with unparalleled
financial potential. Throughout
the 1950s the magic of the
anti-adult was personified, according to
West, by the likes of music’s Elvis Presley,
fiction’s Holden Caulfield, and
Hollywood’s James Dean. Fed by postwar
consumerism and entertainment
focused so exclusively on adolescents,
adult influence rapidly declined. West
quips that by 1960, “American culture
was no longer being driven by the adult
behind the wheel; it was being taken for
a ride by the kids in the back seat.”
Indeed, West offers a point of view echoed
by other thinkers of “second
thoughts” that the entire antiwar movement
of the 1960s was driven less by
concern about American foreign aggression
than by mere self-interest in
avoiding military service. Evidence the
1970 campus violence that forced this
reviewer to carry an Army Reserve Officer
Training Corps uniform in a paper
bag. One year later, the draft lottery
quelled most opposition from collegeaged
adolescents who, like children, no
longer “had to do” what they did not
like. The consequences of national immaturity
became clear when a “Huey”
helicopter lifted off from a besieged Saigon
rooftop in 1975. By then, however,
Americans had been distracted by Jaws
and dancing to “You Sexy Thing.” In
1977, Jimmy Carter made good on his
campaign promise to grant draftdodgers
amnesty, revealing that adult
responsibility was dead in the White
House as well.
Remaining ignorant as they aimed to
understand “the other,” Americans lost
their sense of themselves. It therefore
follows as no surprise, according to
West, that when faced with terrorism
on a global scale, America declared war
on a tactic instead of the people and
culture who used it. West believes that
our biggest handicap is “a perilous lack
of cultural confidence . . . our renunciation
of cultural paternity [which is] a
natural consequence of believing in our
own illegitimacy.”
A snapshot of popular news headlines
suggests West is correct. Frightened of
and ignorant about Islam, Americans—
63 percent of whom, National
Geographic says, cannot find Iraq on a
world map—are like kids with no one
to advise them. So they blissfully amuse
themselves with self-absorbing distractions,
such as Hollywood drama, reality
television, and who gets voted off the island.
Meanwhile, modern-day religious
fascists plot their destruction.
This book is intense, no-nonsense, challenging,
and clearly written with passion
reflecting parentlike frustration.
Readers—most of whom, like the author
herself, are products of post–
World War II parents—may become
uneasy, as I did, when West’s rapier finger
pushes a personal button. However,
this book is a must, since eventually violent
extremism will force America to
shake off decades of immature behavior
and grow up. As West aptly concludes,
“A civilization that forever dodges maturity
will never live to a ripe old age.”
Naval War College



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