Our father was a veteran of World War II. He came home with four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, never to speak of his experience. He kept his silence until his death at age eighty-five. He did not talk about the atrocities of war because the memories were too painful. As America entered other wars, such as Vietnam and Iraq, this particular World War II veteran was a vocal protester.
He was born in 1923, like the fifth of eight children or something. They were hard folks. He completed the sixth grade but ended his formal education to go to work in Mort Capp’s Junk Yard up at 13th and Grand Avenue.
He was 18 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He joined the army on the buddy plan with his childhood friend. Their enlistment term was “for the duration.” They would fight until the job was done. They were gone for over three years. No visits home – in those days you didn’t come home from England for a 30 day leave, there was no transportation. No phone calls, just occasional letters.
The “duration” meant an unconditional surrender by German and Japan. The American soldiers would engage the fight until these clear conditions were met.
Our mother still has his letters from the war. He landed on Omaha Beach and marched across France and Germany. He was just outside of Berlin when Germany surrendered. He gathered his battle ribbons and his other medals of valor and came home.
Less than six months after Germany surrendered he was home in Missouri, married, and starting a family and a career. There was no consideration for reintegration with society, no concern for Post Traumatic Stress, no offers of education or job training. The war was over – go home and get on with life.
Two of this writer’s brothers turned 18 in 1964 and 1966. We turned 18 during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Our father was a verbose anti-Vietnam patriot. He knew first hand what war meant. The justification for sending his sons into battle had to meet rigid, uncompromising standards.
Our government leaders learned lessons from Vietnam – lessons that our father could have told them in 1964, There must be clear preconditions met before endangering our troops. Conditions such as imminent threat to our national security, and all diplomatic options exhausted.
George Bush and Dick Cheney actively avoided military conflict in their youth. But they are not alone in their neocon mentality. We grew up in the 1960’s. Many of our friends avoided the draft by going to college with Government Pell Grants, and Government backed Student Loans. They became educated and professional – they have had successful and profitable careers – and now they are politically right wing.
They do not want to pay taxes so others can receive the same benefits they received. But they are hell bent on establishing a superior, dominant, crushing military force to protect their assets.
The Greatest Generation, those men who fought in World War II, came home and were happy to pay their share to improve the lives of their children. They built the interstate highway system, built General Motors, built United States Steel, rewrote the laws on Civil Rights and Women’s rights, they suppored the first national health care package for the elderly (Medicare), they suppored health care for underprivileged children (medicaid), they paid their taxes to support education, even college education – they built the economic infrastructure of this country – because they understood their responsibility to their country’s future.
We have not yet used the terms liberal or conservative in this post. Our notion is that the World War II Veterans were the most liberal bunch ever to run this country. They took responsibility seriously – and look at their achievements.
Now step back and look at the achievements – the legacy – of the neocons who have been running this country the past eight years. The term neocon comes from neo-conservative, meaning ‘like’ or ‘similar’ or ‘a variation of’. These are people who have torn down the great achievements of the great veterans of World War II.
We need another great generation to rise up for honesty, integrity, and responsibility in Government.