Nostalgic Risks

Having been taught long ago to live in the present, I find fondness for nostalgia puzzling. It has always been seen by me as a benign appreciation of the past. Or so it was until I read a story by Kim Stanley Robinson "The Lucky Strike" in The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century edited by Harry Turtledove. The protagonist, a reluctant soldier, looks upon the future of men whose most vital experiences were honed by war.

His mind spun forward and he saw what these young men would grow up to be like as clearly as if they stood before him in businessmen's suits, prosperous and balding. They would be tough and capable and thoughtless, and as the years passed and the great war receded in time they would look back on it with ever-increasing nostalgia, for they would be the survivors and not the dead. Every year of this war would feel like ten in their memories, so that the war would always remain the central experience of their lives — a time when history lay palpable in their hands, when each of their daily acts affected it, when moral issues were simple, and others told them what to do — so that as more years passed and the survivors aged, bodies falling apart, lives in one rut or another, they would unconsciously push harder and harder to thrust the world into war again, thinking somewhere inside themselves that if they could only return to world war then they would magically be again as they were in the last one — young, and free, and happy. And by that time they would hold the positions of power, they would be capable of doing it. […] And to what end? To what end? So that the old men could hope to become magically young again. Nothing more sane than that.
Ah, sanity. I think I will stick with my present madness for the present.

And so for day 1472