September 2, 2010

The End is Here, Not with a Bang, but with a Whimper

PARDON me for a few if I slip away from my typical method and indulge in some introspection.

Galrahn of Information Dissemination has a rather salient point to be made about the end of combat operations in Iraq, that being, that for the most part, there has been no generational impact upon the American people because of Iraq or Afghanistan theatres. Not surprisingly the meme coined by some Marine in theatre: “America isn’t at War, the Marine’s are at war, America is at the mall” was then and is now irrefutable true.

Perhaps this is why for the last several days I have felt as if I’ve been in a fog of sorts, Americans are still at the mall, and there is no celebration for our warriors who have risked all for us – 10 Thousand and more of them giving up their tomorrows for our today’s.

American deaths due to combat are on the rise, and while those deaths will be immensely powerful events for the families involved, America, as a country, is still unaffected. Only a small percentage of the American population has been directly affected by the war, either by their service, or the service of one of their loved ones. This is not an America where memorials will spring up in the town square because half of the male population of the town died in a single battle or conflict, and this is not an America where an entire generation of men will have been lost, as occurred in Europe after the Great War. No this is an America that is for the most part stuck in some egocentric funk.

The current generation of American’s have not been affected by war, in the way that past generations have and that is both a good and bad thing to have occurred. Galrahn writes of his daughter and the impact the last decade of war has had upon her thusly: “The nation has been at war for over 60% of her life, and the impact of the war on her life doesn't exist despite the fact that the explosion of technology, access to information, and variety in new communication capabilities represents the most influential cultural impact on her generation. Did 9/11 impact a generation? Absolutely, but the military actions that followed have not.”

I was 11 when the Vietnam War officially ended, and to me it seemed as if there had been a collective sigh of relief – from both sides of the aisle - as our warriors began coming home. And yet, like today, there have been no national ticket tape parades welcoming home our warriors, and unlike in 1976 there has been no national sense of relief, because for the most part, war has not affected many Americans. Like Galrahn’s daughter my son’s have been largely unaffected by war, even though it has been with us for 80% of my youngest son’s life. Oh yes, war has touched our bucolic community in the piedmont, by claiming some of our finest young men, and our little church has sent off four of its own on Active duty – one bravely enlisting in the Infantry upon his graduation from high school, and we as a community have been spared the trauma of generations past. As Galrahn so correctly points out, "Generation Kill" is a slogan, not an applicable stereotype.

Perhaps you are wondering at this point in the essay if I am advocating that the trauma and heartache of loss due to war should have been thrust upon a much larger segment of the society? Allow me to reassure you I am not. What I am advocating is that perhaps we as a nation should not have gone to the Mall when President Bush told us to and instead we should have gone to war as a nation.

When 9/11 occurred Americans were for one brief moment united in their direction. 9/11 was the proverbial 2x4 to the forehead so many of us needed to snap ourselves out of the egocentric world we had fallen into. The 80’s in all its pastel glory and the 90’s with its techno-advancements and social networking had removed the personal from the collective. That generation was the first true generation to be born in this country where there was no want. Everything and anything you could imagine was there for the taking, provided you could lose yourself in yourself and let go of the one thing that had guided our country for so long, our collective soul, our collective experience, our singular purpose that made us America.

Today far more people have slipped back into that pre-9/11 mentality, than those whom have slipped out of the focus on the self, and are now focusing on the needs of America. You cannot argue at any length that the US Military is filled with the latter and not the former, and for that we must be eternally grateful, however, the US Military is but a small fraction of our countries population and that small population cannot continue to provide for the rest of America.

America must once again step up and throw off the mantel of self and taken upon itself the cloak of destiny.

Yes, the dusty cloak of Manifest Destiny needs to be brought out from the back of the closet and put on once again. Oh! I can hear the cries from the politicos now, so take heed, I am not suggesting that we invade Canada or Mexico on the contrary I am suggesting that no nation has never prospered when it did not have some sense of a national purpose or destiny. I am suggesting that we as a nation have no single purpose anymore, and we need one - desperately.

America has lost its collective soul, its reason to be and become instead of a great melting pot, a buffet table of beliefs, ethnicities and cultures. We no longer identify as American’s but instead we are: African-American, Indian-American, Chinese-American, Japanese-American, Iranian-American and the list goes on. Our heritage is a great and wonderful thing, but in today’s society there is no room for anything other than the Id. In a culture of instant gratification significant social events such as 9/11 and subsequently Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (we can’t even call them theatres in a World War anymore – but rather operations, as if we at some point we will all wake up in a recovery room made better by the worlds miracles) there is no room for a national zeitgeist.

The Greatest Generation was without a doubt united in their purpose, every industry and community mobilized and gave their blood, sweat and tears towards a common goal our current generation seems only united in the purpose of getting more for less, and shifting the cost onto some future generation. A nation cannot survive on a steady diet of Hollywood Starlets and their twittering escapades, or the misguided ravings of an environmental wacko who feels that the only solution is to force a network to change their programming to save the frogs.

The current direction of the country seems to be one in which the government can do pretty much anything it wants, as long as the American people are not inconvenienced or directed away from their breads and circuses. The American people must once again become engaged in the dealings and direction of our country. We must unite in a single purpose and we must no longer allow the government to prosecute its actions without our input and if need be intervention.

I agree whole heartedly with Galrahn: “[t]he government may be engaged, but the people are not.” Or more to the original point, the US military is at war, America is at the mall. We need to get out of the mall shed ourselves of our egocentric attachments and become engaged in all matters of our current war.

World War II, for the US was over in less than 5 years; our current World War has dragged on for nearly a decade. While our personal losses have been less, the accounting on the gains is still to be determined. Yes, Iraq has a new government but it is as one said: "[a] government if you can hold on to it." Afghanistan has a new government but it at times seems more of the same. However, if we as a nation had put ourselves on a war footing as we did during WWII, do any of you think that the war would have continued on for as long as it has? Can you honestly say that if we had deployed 16 million men and women in both theatres we could not have forced both AlQaeda and the Taliban out? Think of the effect on the home front if another 80 million Americans had retooled their industry to churn out weapons and vehicles. GM could have been churning out 1000s of Stryker vehicles a day to supply the need in Iraq. Foreign companies such as BAE could have expanded their production of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the ubiquitous up armored hummer could have been produced in mass quantities by Ford or other manufacturers instead of starting as hillbilly armor in the maintenance shops of Baghdad.

Manifest Destiny could have saved American lives.

So the end of combat operations is upon us in Iraq, but for most Americans it is business as usual, there are no Rosy Riveters heading home, no long-shore men tired after 12 hours of loading cargo ships of men and material. The Greatest Generation of our generation is but a small subset and because of that there is no cause to celebrate. Is it no wonder that even with this momentous occasion upon us I feel a loathing developing once again in the country? Our news cycles are dominated by a hurricane named Earl and an environmental wacko named James, the talking heads continue to scream at each other, and large segments of the population continue to push the American Soul to the back burner instead of pulling it to the fore.

A common singular purpose over the last decade could have saved American, Iraqi and Afghani lives, instead we as a nation decided that it was safer to let someone else do the heavy lifting, and we went shopping. There is no simpler way to say it: Manifest Destiny could have saved American lives.

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