I visited a friend in the hospital during the recent PBS series about World War II. He was of military age during the war, but flunked his physical. He talked what that meant to him, and I talked about my maneuverings to avoid Vietnam and what that meant to me. We were hardly on the level of veterans comparing Iwo Jima with the Battle of the Bulge, but we shared such stories as we had, and congratulated one another on having never been shot at.
After 9/11, I would have seriously considered enlisting had I been younger, but now I am exceedingly glad that I was unable to fight in yet another pointless conflict based upon a lie; and I honestly don’t know if I would voluntarily risk my life for my country in any war. I’m not even sure my country is worth dying for, or what it would mean, exactly, to die for it.
I worked as a stock clerk at Woolworth’s when I was in college, and I took note, for the first time really, that my nation’s every sacred occasion was another excuse for a sale. Our nation was created by brave idealists—let’s have a sale. Millions fought for our freedom—let’s have a sale. Christ was born of a virgin—let’s have a sale. And, when we can get away with it, let’s move the sacred day to Monday so we can have a “three day sale.”
I sometimes wondered why almost no one seemed to object to this. I mean, come on, George Washington was born on February 22, but we’ll just honor him on whatever Monday comes closest—later renaming the day to honor all presidents (no matter how inept or evil)—and assume that Washington would be okay with that. True, every Christmas a few people write editorials about the real meaning of Christmas, but even they don’t usually object to commercialism per se, they just think we need to tone it down a bit, as in enough’s enough already.
So, I don’t know. To die for my country would mean…. To die so half of us can exercise our freedom to stay home from the polls? To die so the least among us can speak his piece, although most won’t bother because only the rich and famous are heard anyway? To die so …?
We lead the world in consumerism, waste, and obesity. In what else do we lead? Oh, yes, the cost of medical care, although our life expectancy continues to drop. If it is fair to say that our soldiers died for that which we do best, they died so that we can shop until we drop, and waste until we have wasted it all.
Most of my countrymen (adolescents mostly) who fought in wars probably thought about their sacrifice a lot less than I if only because I have been at it longer than they were able to remain alive. From what I can gather, they were entirely too trusting of their elders and too generous with their lives and fortunes. It’s not enough to be good, you also have to be smart lest your goodness serve an evil end.