Like many people my age, both of my grandfathers served our country in the second World War. I knew this from a very young age and while we learned about WWII in history class, wrote papers and took tests on it, I am sad to say that we were never taught what that meant for us or how WWII affects us now, 70+ years later.
It's hard to put ourselves in the shoes of our grandparents, mostly because we're comfortable with the "world" we've built around ourselves. We're okay with liking (or not liking) what we have now and not thinking about the struggles it took for us to acquire those things, tangible or not. A military draft and a nation on food, water and gasoline rations isn't something anyone is anxious to repeat. But do we really understand why an occasion so grim will never again be a reality?
We can never understand what it was like to have an entire country's population of young men be swept away in a sea of shaved heads and somber uniforms. We can never understand the anxiety of reaching an otherwise special birthday and instead of celebrating, being ushered away into the confusion and struggle. Now, in a time where we can't imagine not having instant updates or the latest facts at our fingertips, can never really understand the motivation behind leaving work, school, families and lovers for a war where the country wasn't allowed to vote on, and it's lawmakers weren't permitted to stand behind the battle lines with gavels. We can never understand fighting at such a young age and being blessed to live a full life, all the while watching the world become bigger, better, and yet infinitely more cruel.
We can never understand the how and why 70 years ago, but we'd like to think we're a part of the end result. We'd like to think we can imagine donning a uniform if the end result is the freedom to enjoy a church service on Sunday. We can imagine it in the beauty of a sunset, or the joy of a new baby. We can see the reasoning standing at the edge of The Grand Canyon, or riding through the Smoky Mountains. We can comprehend the desire to forever feel so serene when we wake up and enjoy the sunrise over a lake with a warm cup of coffee. It's easy to see why there was little questioning in moments so peaceful and majestic.
It's easy to see why our grandfathers stood up to fight for something that was already there, to defend their title of the greatest country on Earth. But what about what was to come in the future? What about the things they didn't know they were defending? The changes in industry, the shutdowns in government?
I am curious to know. Is this world, 2013, what our grandfathers fought for? Did our grandfathers leave their families and watch their friends die in battle for this? Were they really hoping to save a world that would later reject them, as young men, in favor of equality? Were they glad to have risked their lives and their futures for a world of sexting, scandal, immigration battles and political correctness?
They might not have known what they were fighting for, or what their bravery would mean. But we can ask ourselves something more relevant: are they proud of the country and the world they fought so hard to save?
Are our grandfathers proud of what our food industry has done to our health industry? Or what our health industry has done to our democracy? Are they proud that our clothes are no longer being made down the street, employing our taxpayers but in some Asian country, employing child slaves? Are they proud that they stood up to fight for women who would later murder their own children? Are they proud that the military is now, although well-loved, used a ploy in lawmakers' and politicians' conniving games?
We may have a hard time connecting the dots with what our grandfathers did long before we arrived, but it's not hard to see that without the sacrifices they willingly made, our lives would look nothing as they do today. They did not fight so hard and risk so much so that their country can dismiss them and their ideals easily as outdated and old fashioned.
A mere "thank you" is not enough. We are very much past "thank you".
Instead of verbalizing it, let's show our gratitude. Let's rebuild a world our grandfathers not only fought to save, but would be proud of fighting for.