COLUMBIA — As the year draws to a close, everyone (yes, everyone) is dusting off his or her soothsayer turbans, polishing little glass globes, unpacking Tarot cards and completing SWOT charts to make predictions for 2011, mostly based on the incorrect predictions from 2010.
At the same time, we are lamenting the losses we all took, financially, emotionally, physically, personally and vicariously since the first of January 2010. Did I mention the self-flagellation for not keeping any of the resolutions made at the end of 2009? No need, you’ll beat up yourself as you make the same promises for the coming year — weight loss, a new job, stopping that bad habit of drinking at work and the others.
This column is about none of the above. I am teaching, paid a princely amount for writing this column (not really) and enjoying life. Kathy and I are healthy, and I cannot ask for more than that. What this column is about is the 1 percent of Americans in our military and those fighting the war in Afghanistan, a number provided by the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of Congress and a plethora of journalists.
My father was a World War II fighter pilot stationed in Pisa, Italy. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross while on a mission over Germany. Today he volunteers his summer time at the Air Power Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y., telling visitors about the great airplanes he flew during and after the war. He will be 88 on his next birthday.
What my dad rarely talks about are the sacrifices his family and friends made back in the states during and after the war years. Food and fuel were rationed and scrap metal recycling drives were held daily. Women gave up silk stockings so pilots like my dad could have parachutes. Sacrifice was the norm.
Everyone talked about the war, in barbershops, diners and at home, listening to the latest news on the radio. People knew each country in Europe and the names of the islands in the Pacific and could find each on a world map.
During the Vietnam War, we watched the nightly news about the protests against the war. There was a national debate, continuous, rancorous and sometimes vicious, about the justification or lack of justification for the conflict. I did not serve in the military, but I was a part of that discussion, finding my political legs and standing strong on the issues, always supporting our troops.
For nine years, Americans have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan. If it were not for the side trip taken by President George Bush in Iraq, the war against the Taliban might have been over by now, Osama bin Laden might be captured or dead, and the Afghan government might be doing whatever it would do without an invading army looking over its shoulder.
Today, conversations concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are missing in action, as are the sacrifices we should be making at home for those who are fighting overseas. Yes, unemployment is closing in on 10 percent, but we could and should all do our share.
I am as guilty of not acting and not speaking about the war as anyone. I have not given up a thing to help those who are “in theater” or for the Afghan people. Yes, my family’s finances are tight, and we need to look out for ourselves. Yet I could afford a few bucks to the USO or the veteran organizations helping the men and women returning wounded, physically and emotionally. Our newest veterans are living on the streets, cannot find employment and are not getting the physical and mental help they need. I — we — are doing little to help.
We talk about the war as if it were a video game that we do not want our children or grandchildren to play. The war is “there,” not here, and the dogs of war are hidden behind self-induced blindness or self-serving patriotism. We are more worried about receiving the right electronic toy for Christmas than we are for those who honorably serve our country.
Entering 2011, I am ashamed and determined to change, to make a difference. Will you?
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.