I've spent the last few months steeped in research set in the World War II era, and it has me thinking a lot about the way we, as a nation, participate in our foreign wars. So much of modern warfare is antiseptic, removed, cleansed and sanitized for a television audience, and it's easy - way too easy - for us to choose to ignore what is going on on the other side of the world.
I'm not, at heart, a political person, and I have no desire to discuss the merits of our participation in the various conflicts in which we now find ourselves embroiled. But I do think it's fascinating - and rather shameful - that we can so easily choose ignorance and non-participation. Seventy years ago, such a stance was unthinkable. War was participatory, and not just in the sense that families with young men made terrible sacrifices in every block of every neighborhood - every citizen was affected.
Some of the ways people were included in the war effort were heroic. Others were shameful. All of them give me pause, as I learn more and more about the hidden history of that time.
Americans longed for peace to return, but they understood it could not happen without the involvement of every family and individual. I feel like that climate could not be duplicated today. Ours is a sated culture that expects immediate gratification with a minimum of sacrifice; we expect our government to deliver peace even as we remain ignorant, indifferent, unfocused.
Americans planted victory gardens, saved fats for glycerin, participated in metal and clothing drives, made bandages. They did without new cars and appliances as plants moved their entire production cycles to the war effort. Women took over the jobs men left behind.
Here are a couple of magazine ads which I found nothing short of stunning:
How do you think our nation would respond to such pleas today? "Peace can be yours - if you all ratchet down spending for another year?" I just read an analysis of saving behavior on the part of our citizens, and it turns out that we have a fight-or-flight response - we'll spend until the bitter end, and then we react with a complete shut-down of our personal economies. We know no moderation in our spending behavior. Since we have proved to the economists that only something personally catastrophic - job loss, foreclosure, etc. - will evoke spending changes within our homes, I wonder what our reaction would be today to the suggestion that we modify our habits in the interest of supporting our military engagements?
It's not quite resolution making time, but I'm mulling over something that is quite a stretch, for me. It might be time for a deliberate increase in awareness. My reasons for being apolitical are personal, but my reasons for change are not: simply put, it is starting to feel like a responsibility shirked. I've enjoyed personal peace for 48 years; it might just be time to stop taking it for granted.