There were bad guys. During the 1936 Olympics, we cheered Jessie Owens as Hitler jeered our ethnic impurities. Mussolini, bent on African expansion, made us champion Joe Lewis’ title “We are going to get in this thing yet” was a common comment.
When the die was cast, most everyone understood thoroughly that no man, woman or child would be left with the same future as they planned for. And, despite private qualms, there was a general feeling of pitching in to get the job done.
In the Twenty-First Century, we also had warnings. Osama bin Laden was under United States indictment. Two of our embassies had been bombed, a destroyer was disabled at bay, and the World Trade Center had itself been struck in 1993. Citizens seemed to pay small attention. During the presidential campaign, we thought about how to save our surplus for free prescriptions and future retirement .
Between watching stock market charts and sports scores, we noticed brief mention of killings in the Middle East. Many wondered why the rest of the world could not settle down to business in the same way we could. It irked us that demonstrators tried to disrupt the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999. Zionism as racism raised official American hackles at the United Nations convention against racism at Durban.
Attacking our centers of commerce and defense was hideously embarrassing. We could not abide the notion that thousands of innocent civilians were incinerated through the implosion of buildings. Demeaning was the fact that the implements of terror were box cutters and civilian aircraft. The horror of it had us saying,. “This had to be the work of well-trained, well-led fanatics. America will never be the same.” We were at war with devilish phantoms.
And we cried. We gathered in prayer. We wore miles of red, white and blue ribbon. We were prepared to give blood–at the blood bank. And we promoted our president to highest approval in opinion polls.
Airplane security must be tightened, causing us some inconvenience as we took back to the skies. The stock market, covered in dust and impinged with broken telephone connections, took the rest of the week off, but the computer records were safe. To be patriotic, we were advised to buy stock. Surely we knew that the consumer was key to a strong economy. The patriotic thing to do was to buy stock and anything else we liked to consume.
Sixty years ago, men were drafted and women volunteered or worked in war industries. There would be scarcities. Now we fear the dreadful R-word. Recession, maybe, but God forbid that we might endure what happened so long ago in the Great Depression. It could not happen! Our unemployment insurance, our Medicare and Medicaid health insurance, our food stamps, our generous safety net would protect us if we lost our jobs. Also, we needed another tax cut to keep the economy strong.
It is good that we have a highly trained, volunteer military force. It is good that we have the best medical system in the world, especially if anyone dare try to slip any toxins and microbes into our everyday lives. We are the only world power on the globe these days. With American know-how, nothing can be thrown at us which we cannot figure out. The difference between then and now for this writer is that, actuarially, I know my days are numbered. I too mourn for the people whose lives were unnecessarily shortened. I grieve even more for the young who now realize that there is no Spiderman who can scale the towers and make everyone safe.
Some of us will think about the elderly who, resigned to their own mortality, cannot understand why their progeny should be at risk. It makes one wonder. Will there be even more aggressive electronic games under Christmas trees? Will women who rely on the earnings of military engagement escape the hazards of their occupation?
Will we ask what we can do for our country or what it can do for us? Who remembers the quote? And who said it? One out of four citizens were not born when the Viet Nam incursion ended. Only one out of eight of us were here when Pearl Harbor occurred. Maybe we do not know how to study war no more.