I wrote this last year on Veteran's Day and while my perspective has shifted a little after living in a foreign country, these thoughts still resonate with me, which is why I have chosen to share them again.
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 population 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, (or make a trending topic on twitter) and it's lawmakers weren't permitted to stand behind
the battle lines with gavels and lawsuits. 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 traveling 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, 2014, 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 (now, not-so-distant) 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 as a ploy in lawmakers' and politicians'
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 what they fought for.
After teaching English in a high school in South Korea for 6 months, I am even more proud of the country our grandfathers defended. When we first got here in February, I thought it incredible that every head was not only one or two heads shorter than me, but that each one was covered in dark, straight hair. It was like looking down at a sea of black, bobbing lava. I thought how unique it was that everyone was the same. Now, after being immersed in Korean culture (as much as only knowing a handful of words will allow me), there are things I don't care for about the "uniqueness" of Koreans being, in large part, the same. And I think how amazing it will be, when I finally do make it back on home soil, to see not only varying heights but also the beautifully different hair color! And surely you realize that I'm not just talking about how Americans look, but who they are, what they know, where they travel, what they eat, everything. This is not a Korea-bash, by any means. Merely an example of how quickly we take for granted the things we are so used to seeing and having.
How proud I will be to tell my children what our grandfathers did for them.