What does the average 14-year-old boy think about? How to shirk his homework? How to advance to the next level of Call of Duty? Girls?
If you’re Newt Gingrich, you’re way beyond that drivel. International monetary policy, the cost of war and the future of Western civilization dominated Gingrich’s thoughts.
“I have spent much of my life studying and working on the problems of how civilizations survive,” Gingrich wrote in his 1995 book “To Renew America.” “It began when I was surprisingly young.”
Gingrich, Speaker of the House at the time — and at times known as the GOP’s chief bloviator — recounted a tale about the epiphany that drew him to a life of public service. In 1957, his step-father Robert Gingrich was an Army officer who was stationed in France, where Gingrich saw cities still trying to recover from the damages of both world wars. He described the experience of bartering for “cheap French champagne” with American goods, because the French currency was so weak.
“As a young American, I found myself fascinated by the impact these complications of international finance had on us,” he wrote.
During his time in France, he visited the town of Verdun and was shocked to see that artillery damage from World War I — 42 years earlier — had not been repaired. The sight impressed a teenage Gingrich with the ideas that humans can inflict massive pain on other humans and that nations must protect themselves.
“Until we visited Verdun, I believed I was going to be a zoo director or a vertebrate paleontologist specializing in dinosaurs or early mammals of the Paleocene and Eocene,” he wrote (the Paleocene is a geologic time period that supposedly happened 56 million years ago, if you didn’t know). “After that weekend, my ambitions changed.” (RELATED: Gingrich praised FDR, New Deal in ’95, ’06 books)
A few months later, his father was transferred to Stuttgart, Germany, and Gingrich took a summer job as gardener, giving him time to think, the book said. With his hands in the sod, he had an epiphany — “that civilizations can die.”
“I realized that our civilization was facing a mortal threat from the Soviet empire and that some people had to be willing to dedicate their lives to protecting our way of life, our freedom, and our people,” he wrote.
That person, he decided, would be Newt Gingrich.
“That summer I decided, in the innocently solemn way young people sometimes have, that I would dedicate my life to understanding what it takes for a free people to survive and to helping my country and the cause of freedom,” Gingrich wrote.
He said he immediately began to study history, politics and military power, laying the foundation for his years in public office.