The American novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway wrote about the lost generation in A Moveable Feast, a book published posthumously about his years as an expatriate writer in Paris in the 1920s.
Hemingway, who had a long history with the Caribbean –– he owned a winter home in Cuba and wrote parts of For Whom The Bell Tolls there –– attributed the phrase to his mentor Gertrude Stein, she herself an American writer of novels, poetry and plays.
As he explained it, Ms Stein heard a garage owner, who had serviced her car, shout at a young mechanic who had failed to repair the car quickly enough: “You are all a generation perdu.”
Ms Stein, in telling Hemingway the story, added: “That is what you are. That’s what you all are . . . ; all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.” That was a reference to World War I.
We shudder to think what Ms Stein or the French mechanic would have thought of today’s generation, after having heard what Station Station Sergeant Roland Cobbler had to say.
In his contribution to a discussion on the impact of crime on youth last Thursday night, Sergeant Cobbler presented some chilling and troubling statistics –– he called them worrying –– on the involvement of Barbadian children in crime. Yes, children; since most of them were born after the turn of the century.
The police officer spoke of children as young as 11 engaged in violent crime, some involving the use of firearms, and of 15-year-olds controlling drug gangs at school.
“This present generation has gone crazy,” Sergeant Cobbler told his audience.
He could easily have said that this is the lost generation, or, at the very least, a generation that could soon be lost. The former is frightening, the latter is terrifying.
However, we can’t afford to remain standing frozen with fear. The statistics presented by the station sergeant indicated that the numbers involved in violent crime were increasing rapidly, and participants at a younger and younger age.
So we must ask ourselves a series of questions. Why? Are we letting our children down? Do we have a strategy to deal with this problem? Is the problem that of leadership? Are we the problem?
But questions alone won’t cut it. We must take decisive action, and take it now to save our children; to save this generation; to save our country.
For the most part, we in Barbados have been romantics; we tend to romanticize everything. So we sit in our kitchens, and our porches, and our backyards, and in the markets, and the rum shops, and reminisce about the good old days. We even dare to dream of a life very much like those good old days. Since God is a Bajan, all will be well, we have told ourselves again and again.
But the dreams that we have had for our children are turning into nightmares. Their future has become a tangled mess, and they need our help –– fast!
The events of recent times where more and more young people are being arrested for murder and other violent crimes must sober us up. And if they haven’t, the statistics presented by Sergeant Cobbler must. We the naïve heralds of all things glorious must awake to the disturbing truth that this generation is in trouble and if we allow it to be lost, the next generation will likely be even worse.
We do not believe our children have descended into cold, unfeeling, predatory monsters who will slaughter friends, former friends, colleagues and people they don’t know just because they can. But the evidence suggests they have lost their way, and it’s up to us to help them find it.
It is easy to suggest we hunt down and destroy those who are committing these evil deeds. But it is all too clear to us this isn’t the answer since, as Sergeant Cobbler indicated, the numbers are rising rapidly. And, as the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stated, if only it were all so simple!
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago.
If we are not prepared to destroy our own hearts, then we must seek answers elsewhere. However, wherever we search, we strongly suggest that these answers not lie in lengthy studies and reports the size of The Bible with its 66 books –– 72 if you use the Revised Standard Version ––– lying on shelves. These answers must involve everyone: the home, the community and the authorities which must now prioritize the provision of opportunities to our children, and must give them hope.
The new Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich in his introduction of Belarusian dissident Andrei Sannikov’s memoir, recently wrote: “Sannikov’s book is about how we need to hold a mirror up to the devil, so that he won’t think he is invisible. Sannikov’s message is simple: Take care of the human being in yourself.”
It’s a lesson we would do well to learn. We must accept that we as a nation are failing our children, and we must take care of them like the human beings they are. Let’s all hold up the mirror.
If we don’t, if we dismiss the evidence presented by Sergeant Cobbler as a few juvenile delinquents looking for trouble, the devil we are likely to confront is: while we may remove the symptoms, the root of the problem remains, and not only will
we have lost this generation, we most certainly will risk losing the next.