While to many Memorial Day is a day for barbecuing—the official kickoff to the summer season—for me it forever reminds me of you, Dad. It is a day on which I doff my hat to you and all veterans who served and put their life on the line, often sacrificing it, to protect our way of life.
Yet for as long as I can remember, you, a veteran of the Second World War, were critical of this country, even as you loved it. You mistrusted government—advising me that it was my patriotic duty to hold accountable and question the motives of those elected to office. You also mistrusted unions, despised the way the automobile was marketed—speed and more speed and lavish luxury for something you felt was intended only to get from point A to point B. You spurned hippies, love-ins and free love, anti-war demonstrations, the anti-establishment, long hair and rock and roll. Yet despite the criticism, you always felt that the United States of America was still the best country in the world in which to live.
You’ve been gone more than thirteen years now and a lot has happened in the world and in this country since you drew your last breath. Bill Clinton slept with an intern and the public turned a nescient head. “Leave him alone,” they said. “He’s doing a good job, it’s between Bill and Hillary” (because unemployment was low, the country was not at war and the budget was balanced)—yet twenty years earlier we were ready to impeach Jimmy Carter for admitting he’d lusted for women in his heart; but back then there were American hostages in Iran, unemployment was high and the price of a gallon of gas was nearly a dollar. Have we really become more accepting of the faults in others, less judgmental, less moral; or just more willing to punish those we think are doing a poor job? Less moral, I think. We elected George W. twice.
Along with the new millennium came terrorists who crashed two planes into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, while a fourth was crashed into the ground in rural Pennsylvania before it could arrive at its intended target. The Bush administration went along with, even propagated, the misconception that Iraq was behind the events of 9/11 and, under the pretense of a cache of weapons of mass destruction, launched a preemptive strike again Iraq. No such cache was ever found. And those who questioned Bush’s reasons and his methods were called unpatriotic.
Nevertheless, George W. Bush was elected to a second term, despite rumors of a fixed election and of a conspiracy surrounding how much was known of terrorist activity within our borders prior to 9/11, that the administration turned a blind eye to allow the attack to take place so that G.W. could have his jihad against Islam.
The occupation of Iraq continued, with the U. S., the harbingers of human rights, torturing prisoners, thumbing their noses at the Geneva Convention, following orders, from the top, that terrorists don’t warrant humane treatment. While in Afghanistan, a half-hearted effort to track down Osama bin Laden continued. And by the way, a Navy SEAL team caught up with bin Laden a few weeks ago and killed the bastard.
Under eight years of Bush, our federal deficit rocketed into the trillions, and in the final year of his office, Wall Street crashed, the result of unmitigated greed by the hippies of the sixties who grew up to become the yuppies of the eighties and, finally, the establishment; while the housing industry, also given to greed, melted down. None of those who were responsible were ever held accountable. In fact, many continue to pocket vulgar bonuses for their efforts.
Unemployment remains in double digits, and healthcare is something that is pretty much affordable only to the rich. Many voters no longer care about the workings of government because, at some level, they understand no one candidate is any better than another. Perhaps they also understand, if only subconsciously, that no candidate running for public office really believes what they say in their speeches—the successful candidates understand it’s only important that the voter believes what they say.
And so I asked myself recently whether you might still believe that this is the best country in the world in which to live. Unable to view America through the eyes of a European or a Muslim, you might yet believe that it is. If it truly is still the best country in the world in which to live, Dad, what’s that say about the rest of the world?
It just occurred to me: Is it possible I’ve become an even greater cynic than you once were—child is father to the man?
Billy Joel was right—we didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning.
No, we didn’t light it; but I wonder if we’ve given up the fight, surrendered to our weekly fix of American Idol, escaping our reality through reality TV (which is anything but reality), hoping but not really believing that the next candidate elected will do something to make it right, or that we’ll wake up tomorrow to find it was all just a bad dream.
We’re the proverbial hamster pedaling the wheel in our cage faster and faster in pursuit of the American Dream: two cars in every garage—the bigger, less fuel efficient the better. Motown tells us it’s far too expensive to develop a more efficient infernal (as you used to call them) combustion engine, although the technology exists; yet they think nothing of investing their R&D dollars in a glove compartment that doubles as an icebox, heated seats and heated steering wheels, headlights that rotate when driving around a bend, a DVD player in the backseat so parents don’t have to interact with their children, GPS, a camera mounted on the back bumper so we no longer have to be accountable for running over the neighbor’s cat while backing up, a suspension that adjusts itself to the relative roughness of the road, a warning bell that sounds when you veer out of your lane or approach another vehicle, technology that enables the car to parallel park itself without human intervention, a remote starter that can be activated through a cell phone even from another hemisphere.
The cola wars have evolved into cell phone wars—a cell phone for every family member; I have no idea what a 3G network is let alone a 4G network. My ex-girlfriend listed her BlackBerry (you wouldn’t know what that is and believe me you don’t want to know; suffice it to say I pine for the days when talking on the phone meant being tied to the wall by an eight-foot cord) as number three on her list of things to save should her house catch fire—right behind her two pets. “I can’t live without it,” she once told me. Yet she did—for fifty years she lived without one.
We have pills for depression (and pills to help pills for depression), and still other pills to help us sleep, to give us energy, to lose weight, to build muscle, to increase fertility or to prevent pregnancy, to give us longer-lasting erections, to prevent cervical cancer in the very young (or kill the user trying), to lower cholesterol, for restless leg syndrome; and we have plastic surgery and cosmetics to stay the ravages of time … god, we so want to look young when they close our casket for the last time! The most medicated society on the planet, and still we’re so unhappy.
I’m sure there are people in this country who don’t buy into the byproduct of the aforementioned capitalism gone mad; however, there is no way of knowing whether they are in the minority or the majority.
“All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke.)
No people should fear its government; all governments should fear their people. No government is benign. Often, the greatest evil masquerades as good.
Our government doesn’t fear us, Dad; sadly, frighteningly, we don’t fear our government. If anything, we’re indifferent, caught in a vicious cycle that repeats itself every two years—surely the next election, the next man we vote into office, will make a difference?
Fearing our government might be better, because at least fear could result in true change, if only through revolution—and that’s what we need in this country right now: a revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen for more than two-hundred years.
This country is teetering on the brink and, desensitized through TV and technology, unable to see anything beyond the carrot disguised as the American Dream, we just don’t know it. 9/11 changed our way of life. We may never be the country we were prior to the Wall Street crash, and that might not be such a bad thing.
Still, I can’t help but see America as a modern day Rome, with no recollection that its predecessor eventually fell.
I never purported to be a Pollyanna, and many of my friends call me a curmudgeon—heck a lot of acquaintances and strangers call me that (yes, you’d be proud, Dad, that I’ve become a chip off the old block); but consider that the young left in daycare when they were infants because careers were more important than they were are poised to abandon their parents in their old age because, guess what? Their careers will be more important than their parents. The irony of paying it forward, eh?
Thirteen years ago you still thought this was the greatest country in the world in which to live. You loved this country, so much that you risked your life to protect it, for me and for future generations. But this isn’t what you put your life in harm’s way to protect; this isn’t the future you foresaw when you came home from the South Pacific.
Like many of your generation, you worked to give my generation a better life; the Boomers work only to acquire more things that provide no happiness and corrupt spirituality.
Yes, Dad, I can honestly say I no longer love this country. Make no mistake, I love the foundation upon which it was founded. I love The Star Spangled Banner, the Stars and Stripes, the Constitution, the vision of our Founding Fathers, even the words “human rights;” I love your generation for all that you endured. But I loathe what this country has become. Because none of it matters—not the freedom, not the opportunities, not the wisdom of the words—if one doesn’t walk the talk.
Frankly, Dad, with off-shore drilling and off-shoring jobs, with the likelihood the government will begin defaulting on foreign loans within seven years, that our esteem as leaders in the eyes of the world may never recover, with unaffordable healthcare and no sense of family or loyalty between family members or employers-employees, in another thirteen years I can see it becoming one of the worst countries in which to live.
I only hope I won’t live to see that day.
God bless you, Dad.