The United States Department of Veterans Affairs reports that as of 2018 just 3 percent, approximately 495,000, of America’s 16 million veterans of the Second World War are alive today. And those still with us die of age-related complications at a rate of nearly 400 per day.
Often referred to as America’s “Greatest Generation,” the men and women born of the 1920s came of age in the dire straits of the Great Depression; only to pledge all that they had to their unmatched role in ridding the world of the Axis Powers and liberating the victims of the worst genocide in history. Not to mention many were just first and second generation immigrants.
With a track record like that, it is easy to see why most Americans speak to their accomplishments and legacy with more than a hint of awe-inspired admiration in their voices.
It has become clear in light of recent events, however, that this admiration of their deeds and sacrifices is matched only by our heartbreak and lamentation at the thought of their passing.
This is exemplified in the national outpouring of emotion at the sight of a wheelchair-bound Senator Bob Dole raised to his feet to salute the casket of his fellow-veteran and 1988 political rival, George H.W. Bush this past Tuesday during days of funeral proceedings in the Capitol rotunda.
One would rightfully question the presence of a beating heart in any American not moved by this beyond-sobering display of the Greatest Generation’s class, determination, respect and values.
In the week since his death, people of all political persuasions and ideological backgrounds have spoken endlessly to the 41st president’s service to his country and love of his family.
The death affects us all to some degree. But it has done more to shake America’s conservative base than perhaps any scandal or death in recent memory ever could. Perhaps because this upwelling of grief does not simply arise from the mourning of a man who epitomized the dignity, work ethic and heroism inherent in men of President Bush’s time.
It is a grief that transcends the mourning of one individual and is a testament to his time. It stems from the recognition of a truth we have, until now, refused to consciously come to terms with:
The fact that with these men and women go the more wholesome virtues and values they forged and clung to in harder times — values with which America has unfortunately been parting ways.
On the shores of Normandy and Iwo Jima, and in the forests and streets of France and East Germany, the Greatest Generation fought to secure a better world for their families. Their victories established the relative calm and peace that would allow for the social dialogue and progress toward equality seen in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Without their sacrifice, we would not receive our most underappreciated inheritance — the privilege of a safe and secure society in which we may speak freely, participate in the dialogue democratically and pursue our own happiness. Call it the “American Privilege.”
Thusly, mourning the men who sacrificed everything to defeat the Nazis and liberate Holocaust victims — or the women who worked tirelessly on factory floors and in the home raising families without their spouses — is hard enough as it is.
It is only made harder when you realize what the younger generation considers fighting for the right of biological men to use the women’s restroom or the right of spoiled college students to study in an inclusive “safe space,” free from the espousing of thought with which they may be uncomfortable, to be the noble battles of their time.
In our nation’s places of higher learning, left-wing academics teach the youth that the structures they inherit are flawed beyond repair.
American youth is not simply forgetting the sacrifices better men made in harder times. They are not being educated on them in the first place.
Rather than learning of the blood, sweat and tears that built and protected the structures which allow them to learn and pursue progress in peace, the youth is told that the America created by the Greatest Generation is no more than a tyrannical patriarchy predicated on racism and xenophobia.
Students then leave university with their sights set on razing those structures, and the irony that they attempt to do so with feet planted firmly on foundations of peace the Greatest Generation sacrificed everything to reinforce and defend is entirely lost on them.
Yet, we wonder why the younger generations have built, sacrificed and accomplished nothing.
They are not taught how to build a better society. They are not taught to establish their own rational value system nor devote themselves to faith or hard work. They are taught only to invalidate and destroy the structures and values they inherit.
Put bluntly, conservatives have lost the culture war and the evidence is all around us.
The culture of sacrifice, faith and family established by the Greatest Generation has been replaced by younger generations with a self-centered culture devoid of any meaning or intellect.
Society at large looks to television and film personalities for political advice. Seventy-five percent of children polled want to be foolish “Youtubers” when they grow up rather than pursue meaningful careers. The institutions of faith and marriage are under attack and we wonder why families are crumbling and mental health is plummeting. The majority of Americans are not even aware of their constitutional rights, nor could they pass the average civics exam.
It would seem the loss of President Bush may not be so hard for conservative America to swallow were it not for the fact that it reminds us where the nation is headed without their leadership. His passing has made us more aware than ever that American values are going the way of the Greatest Generation.
If there is anything we must take from President Bush’s passing, perhaps it is that the best we can do to pay our respects to the men and women of his time is to recommit ourselves to the honorable values by which they lived and died.
Committing to the same abiding determination, unapologetic patriotism, faith and family-first way of life is no small feat — but it is the only way to make the most of the uniquely American Privilege their values and sacrifice secured.
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