Think of our seemingly endless war in the Middle East and Afghanistan — for which leaders have drawn heavily and repeatedly at the bank of national honor with no clear plan to make up the balance. Someday, when enough time has passed to make it history rather than news, a documentary can recount the way then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld barred the Vietnam veteran Colin Powell, then secretary of state, from the planning process for the Iraq invasion. And how, with heedless cynicism, he arranged to topple the government in Baghdad with little apparent concern for what would come afterward.

No government has ever been perfect. But the boomers have seen their elites break faith again and again. I compare our experience with the government that sent my grandfather to war in 1942. George Love was a small-town railroad man from Oklahoma who volunteered along with his sons in the days after Pearl Harbor. He spent most of his war years at a stateside office building alongside other railroad men from other small towns across the country. They worked out train schedules for a liberated Europe that did not yet exist — work that reflected the determination of men such as George C. Marshall to think things all the way through.