(Over)lording It Above All

band_of_brothers

Today is the 65th anniversary of D-Day. I was brought up on stories of “the Greatest Generation” and its heroics. War heroes walked among us. Those who had been children recounted tales of Allied troops liberating their towns (I remember especially a Dutch man who made a very moving toast in a Washington D.C. restaurant, fifteen years ago tonight.) Holocaust survivors rolled up a sleeve to show you a tatoo and spoke quietly about the day the gates were opened. On the silver screen and re-run on the smaller TV screens, we watched stars fight through “The Longest Day”, or finally reach the end of “A Bridge Too Far.” We knew the stories because we had read the books beforehand. Even the misfits were celebrated in “The Dirty Dozen.” Comic book heroes wore their service ribbons with pride. Even today there is little disagreement about the justification for WWII. Operation Overlord remains a massive success story above all other war stories.

War, the stories told us, isn’t pretty and more often than not, it is the ordinary man forced to overcome extraordinary circumstances who becomes a hero without conscious effort. War wasn’t pretty, but it was sometimes necessary, and we were all in it together.

Then came Vietnam and all that changed. Being a soldier, sailor or Marine was that much more dangerous. There was no safe haven waiting on the homefront. We were continuously told that we were in the wrong. The Tet Offensive, according to no less a public figure than Walter Cronkite, was a disaster for American troops. Not true. But the PR battle against the military was beginning to be won.

Nowadays, I hear kids wonder why anyone with any brains would join the military instead of “getting a real job.” There is little call to duty. And without the experience of having served, I wonder if we haven’t lost other highly desirable attributes that seemed to be instilled with the pride of wearing a uniform. Duty. Honour. Commitment. The fictional anti-heroes, if they are ex-military, are usually damaged and just as likely to be on the wrong side of the law. It is a sophomoric situation.

But maybe that’s my point. Maybe we’re afraid that we can’t live up to the legacy of the greatest generation.

Of course we can. Just ask any serviceman or woman who has served in Afghanistan or Iraq. Or rent “Black Hawk Down.”

The scale of the conflicts may have changed. The sense of duty, honour and commitment of those who volunteer to serve has not. We ask them to do things that many of us could not bear to face. Their deeds should be writ large. Captain America still walks tall among us.

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6 Responses to (Over)lording It Above All

  1. Vicki Archer says:

    A wonderful post and tribute to all our men and women who serve. I agree that duty, honour and commitment are some of the greatest qualities we can possess and I would hate to think that pride in these could be disappearing. xv

  2. Paula says:

    This is a wonderful post. Thank you for remembering D-Day! I watched the ceremonies at Normandy this morning from my kitchen. Seeing the faces of our very old and very young veterans, listening to the beautifully (and haunting) performed taps, and the incredible fly over (so much more impressive and moving than the speeches, yet not a word is spoken), moved me to tears and my pride in my country swelled. Count me in as one American who is incredibly proud of our rich, sweet, and strong history. Your comment about kids’ perspective on military service, duty, honor, etc. reminded me of a saying we have around our house–“It’s the curriculum, stupid!” I would like to encourage all parents out there to take charge of your children’s education in the areas of American History and especially America’s Founding Principles (limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, rule of law, market and economy, and moral norms). Don’t assume they are learning any of this, even at the best private schools. Their days are consumed with problem solving on issues of the day–which, of course, will all be outdated very quickly, as trends change. Today’s global warming crisis is tomorrow’s global cooling crisis. Americans earn a failing grade when tested on American History and Economics. I highly recommend ISI–Intercollegiate Scholastic Institute–a non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization which publishes outstanding student guides to study in all of the major disciplines: liberal learning, the core curriculum, philosophy, literature, economics, classics, the study of history, the study of U.S. history, study of law, American political thought, American political philosophy, psychology, religious studies, music history, natural science. They have a website, of course: http://www.isi.org. We used their resources to supplement our own high schooler’s educations (we also used independent private school K-12). I cannot recommend it highly enough. The guides are excellent for both high school and college students, and published by The University of Chicago press. The difference between “education” and knowledge!

  3. Paula says:

    P.S. Wanted to be absolutely sure no one reads that saying about curriculum the wrong way–not at all a response to readers or Mr. Elegantologist. It is just something our family started using, purely in jest, to explain the unexplainable. Also a play on the “it’s the economy stupid” phrase that caught on in the ’90’s. 🙂 Humor doesn’t always work in print, so I felt I had to add some explanation. My apologies on the length of this–

  4. robertstuart says:

    Thank you for this post.

    The Normandy beaches are one of the sacred sites for Americans, along with Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Gettysburg. The American Cemetery, on a bluff over the Channel, is unspeakably beautiful, and the historic impact above that is overwhelming.

    I have been privileged to visit the D-Day sites on three different occasions, and have been moved to tears each time. The French people retain a profound sense of gratitude for the sacrifices of the Allied forces 60 years ago. The anti-French posturing that American politicians adopt is based on deep stupidity.

    In honor of my father, a World War II pilot.

  5. M.Lane says:

    Great post. Well said.

    ML
    mlanesepic.blogspot.com

  6. Brent says:

    I am a civilian employee of the military, and work with military personnel every day. They are, almost without exception, outstanding people. Those few who do feel the call to duty and decide to serve are doing something extraordinary that we seldom appreciate and almost never understand viscerally.

    Thank you for highlighting this important day.

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