Ain’tcha heard? There’s a _war_ on!

(To my family, friends, and fellow travelers, I offer this. Please forward it to those who you think might appreciate it. Please don’t spam, of course, but as a writer, I feel a need to offer something. I have written other articles, which will hopefully be put up on e-zine websites in the near future, but I’d like to contribute sooner. So here it is.)

“Ain’tcha heard? There’s a war on!”
Peter Flanagan

There has been a great deal of reflection over the past few years about the second World War, and America’s place in it. The phrase “the Greatest Generation” has become popular, honoring the courage, dedication and sacrifice of those who fought for liberty and justice. We have every reason to look up to this generation as a role model, and to look back on that time as quite possibly “our finest hour.”

But there’s a seductive danger in that, as well. Many feel that it’s been all downhill since then, the “decline and fall of the American Empire” and such. It becomes easier to believe that our best is behind us, that we can never again rise to those heights of heroism. We can allow ourselves to believe that our society is decadent, or corrupt, or reactionary, and that it’s just the flow of history.

Maybe America has gotten decadent, corrupt, or reactionary. Probably all at once; we’re a schizophrenic lot, after all. A few weeks ago, we might have referred to the “culture wars,” our little internal battles over who can do what with their bodies, their property, or their words. With a few moronic exceptions, we aren’t doing that right now.

Americans have pulled together in a way unlike anything seen since…well, since Pearl Harbor. We were shocked, we were horrified, we were suddenly united. Thousands work tirelessly to dig through the rubble, risking life and limb to save what few they can. Millions line up for hours to donate blood. Millions more give what money they can to help the grieving. Our culture “wars” are forgotten; we’ve got a real war to deal with. But it can seem like we’re not up to what our forebears did. America’s attention span is shorter, our will weaker.

That’s what our enemies thought. They are about to learn otherwise.

It’s easy to forget that Pearl Harbor came during a dark and divided time in American history, as well. The Depression was waning, but still a shadow over daily life. The argument over isolationism and involvement was raging, as was one over the effectiveness of the Great Society.

And even afterwards, America had its problems. Muslims and Arab-Americans are afraid of prejudice, but they don’t have to fear the “internment camps” that many Japanese-Americans were herded into. Rationing was a controversial move. Racism pervaded the military, quite possibly affecting its effectiveness.

But despite lesser disagreements, there was an overwhelming awareness of the terrible importance of their task. The propaganda that churned out from all media was hardly necessary; most Americans dealt with the fear and hardship with uncommon fortitude. When someone complained about a shortage or inconvenience, the most common reaction was a condescending chuckle and a simple phrase: “Ain’tcha heard? There’s a war on!”

America, and the world, united against a threat to the very spirit of humanity. They fought. They won. There was no other choice.

Today, we face a different horror. Our horror, however, hides behind plausible deniability and brainwashed teenagers. It is a base, cowardly force, which strikes at the defenseless and innocent. It would be easy to tremble and speak of compromise or capitulation. It would be easy, if we weren’t our fathers’ sons and our mothers’ daughters. Instead, we put all our arguments aside in the face of a terrible danger. We unite to help those in need. We stand together to face a long, frightening battle.

This enemy thinks we lack the steel of our ancestors, that our determination has been worn away by Disney, MTV and rap music. I know better. I’ve seen that steel in the line stretched around the corner from blood banks. I’ve seen that determination in the rescue teams who worked until they collapsed from exhaustion. All I’m doing now is reminding you all that we do have what it takes. We can equal the courage and resolve of the “Greatest Generation.” We do not dishonor them in this. Indeed, we could not honor them more than by following their example.

There is no question that this is a different time. Instead of hearing the news hours later on the radio, learning the terrible truth in fits and starts, we were struck as one. Phone calls allowed tragic, loving farewells in moments. Images of skyscrapers crashing to the ground seared us all at once. Instant communication allows us to weigh options, argue morality, and voice our outrage all at once. We are coming out of an unprecedented stretch of prosperity and wonder, rather than crushing poverty. Our nation, and indeed our world, has become more open.

But while times may be different, the power of the free spirit is not. While a few may whine or bicker or try to use this tragedy to push their own agendas, the vast majority of Americans are getting by, working together, and determined to see this through. So the next time someone tries to divide us or convince us that we don’t have what it takes, the next time you hear complaints about the airports or deliveries, just give ’em your best smile and say:

“Ain’tcha heard? There’s a war on!”

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