Our Nation’s Military –then and now
I usually stay away from controversial topics, so this post is a departure from my usual … oh-my-the-world-has-changed-and-I-can’t-keep-up-with-technology rant. If I need education and compassionate help with today’s electronics, I can ask one of my children or one of their children. Problem solved.
Today I feel compelled to comment on something I read in the newspaper (long live print journalism) the other day: How we view the military during the post 9/11 wars compared to wars of the past. The Gulf war in 1990-1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait was so short and victory for the coalition forces came so quickly that we on the home front barely had time to notice. Except of course for the families who lost loved ones in that conflict. And for those who served and came back impaired in body and mind.
Going back in history we have the infamous Vietnam War which coincided with the seismic movement in women’s rights, civil rights, and protests against the “Establishment” as well as protests against the war. Those who served returned to civilian life changed in mind, body and spirit and –worse—reviled in many cases by their fellow country men. However, the war was on our minds and on our television news. It was by far not a popular war but it was a war of which we were very much aware and for many long years. Many would say that the Vietnam War divided the country.
Further back, we had the Korean War, beginning with the North Korean soldiers crossing the 38th parallel dividing North and South Korea on June 23, 1950. Partly because this war occurred so soon after the end of World War II and partly because this conflict was not officially called a war but a “police action” to stop communism, the Korean War did not get much press. Television at that time was in its infancy and newspapers did not offer many details.
I can’t forget, however, the horror I felt at hearing about the thousands of Chinese soldiers sent in waves to attack our men in their trenches. Only now does history begin to take us back to remember those times and the men who served. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. I was surprised to learn that the Korean people in this country and in their native land continue to thank us for saving them from communism. One has only to read what is going on in North Korea to appreciate the veracity of their gratitude.
However, while no one spit on any of our returning soldiers, no one noticed them either. They came back, looked for jobs and began civilian life where they left off before they were drafted or enlisted. My husband calls the Korean War and its survivors, the forgotten veterans. Most of them are now in their 70s and 80s. Attending one of their American Legion meetings or participating with their chapters on a parade, you can’t help but admire these dear old men.
World War II was in a class by itself. Patriotism was ingrained in every aspect of American life from our childhood jump-rope songs: “Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk. Mussolini is a weenie, whistle while you work.” Little children really did sing those words. Victory gardens, rationing of all commodities, war bonds—all part of life in those days. It seemed that every other house on our block had military banners hanging in front windows—blue stars that indicated someone serving overseas and gold stars for someone killed overseas. Many homes had more than one of each or both colors. High school boys were allowed to finish their senior years but ordered to report to the draft board almost the next day.
As we look back, we cannot help but notice that patriotism during war time is fading from our national aspect. The contrast between WWII and the present wars reveals that here on the home front we are asked to sacrifice nothing, going about our daily lives unaffected—except of course the families of the military serving overseas. Why is this? I think a couple of things are in place for this apparent civilian apathy or ignorance of military affairs.
For one thing in all previous wars we had a draft. These seemingly never-ending post 9/11 wars in the Middle East must rely on volunteers. The media of today seems to be a bit weak on reporting the actions of our military in these wars – or so it seems. As our national debt rises and results of our military efforts don’t seem to match the expense our attention turns inward. Fewer young men and women enter the military now than in any other war in our history. Is this a lack of patriotism? I don’t know. Is it the “me” culture? Partially. I have four grandsons of draft age right now and another coming up. Many times I thing, what if? What if they were drafted and what if they were wounded or killed? What if? We can’t think about that, can we?