A Marine scribbled the following on a whiteboard at the US military base in Ramadi, Iraq:
We almost don’t deserve our troops. As audaciously as they have served our country, we are nearly as oblivious to their sacrifice. Two-thirds of Americans cannot find Afghanistan or Iraq on a map. Much of the insulation is by government design. There is no draft today. The press was banned from covering incoming coffin ceremonies.
Unfortunately, war has become ambient noise for many Americans. It’s on in the background. A marketplace bombing in Baghdad. A suicide bomber in Peshawar. Quick clips delivered by solemn CNN or Fox News anchors before getting back to the “real news”: Octomom or Miley Cyrus’ Britney Spears-like trajectory. It’s a media Catch 22 of sorts. Call it escapist, but the networks only broadcast what the viewers want to see. And this summer, viewers want sneak-peeks for “Predators”, the movie, not the unmanned drones errantly gunning down Afghan civilians. The networks couldn’t force viewers to watch and, with Great Recession-induced shrinking bottom lines, they largely stopped trying.
The War on Terror is still too close for comfort for Hollywood. “Jarhead” and Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” came the closest in depicting the realities of modern war. The films depict testosterone-laden twenty-something males enduring weeks of stifling boredom, depression, and themselves for split seconds of combat. Perhaps the War On Terror’s most iconic satire will be the South Park Guys’ “Team America: World Police” anthem “America F--- Yeah!”, lampooning the Bush Era’s rock ‘em sock ‘em, in-your-face war patriotism:
Thanks, in part, to American public apathy, Afghanistan will be the longest war in American history. Iraq, the 3rd longest. This is not a tribute to the resolve of our foes, but their cowardice. The Taliban slink back to their caves or schools to escape head-to-head battle with the most valiant, best-trained fighting force of all time. Historians point out its an insurgency 360 degrees since American Revolutionaries gunned down British Redcoats behind rocks walls at Concord and Lexington. The difference is two-fold: 1) The American Revolutionaries never used innocent women and children as human shields. 2) America fought to escape despotism in the name of Enlightenment, not to restore it and the Dark Ages. The British formations were an anachronism in the face of America’s guerrilla warfare. 230 years later, America’s massive M1 Abrams tanks are of little use in the snow-capped peaks of eastern Afghanistan and Waziristan.
The Twilight Of The American Empire
The longevity of Empires is declining. The Roman Empire spanned 1200 years. The British Empire is eking out a half millennium. America turned 234 years old this July, and the cracks are showing. Rome turned the Mediterranean into its own lake. The sun never set on the British Empire. And America turned the world into its TV room.
Alexander the Great’s dad King Philip II of Macedon conquered Greece. Rome was done in by a) Christianity, if you ask Edward Gibbons; b) lead pipes poisoning Rome’s aristocracy; c) and/or imperial overreach and Nero-esque decadence. World War II bankrupted the British Empire of her war chest and colonies. I know not how the American Empire will end. I don’t know whether our demise will be by mushroom cloud, asteroid, or the Red Army. But I know one day our day will inevitably come. I simply hope when all is said and done, history will remember America as a Superpower that used its right to make might. Not the other way around.
The great American inventor Thomas Edison brought light to the world, literally. And America tried its best (however imperfectly) to bring light to the world, figuratively as well. Modern human history has been paved by the upward-trending path to equality and tolerance. The United State has borne this load on her broad shoulders over much of the last century, in the face of some of the fiercest dictators and loathsome weapons the world has ever seen.
Ancient Greece’s philosophy and drama laid the bedrock for Western humanities and thought. Ancient Rome cobbled together the Known World with its engineering prowess. America will be remembered for her technological ingenuity. From electricity to putting a man on the moon, America, more than any other power, enjoyed the fruits and Apple of the exponential part of humanity’s technology curve. Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs will be her answer to Greece’s Archimedes and Aristotle. Martin Luther King Jr., our oratorical rebuttal to Cicero.
No matter how the dust settles, America’s unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will stand the test of time as unconscionably right and just. Now, the American Empire wasn’t the most progressive of global powers. Winston Churchill once teased, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else. “ She lagged generations behind her older European siblings on social issues (see: Slavery, Universal Suffrage, Civil Rights, and now Gay Marriage). But when she made up her mind, America knew with such a conviction and bulldog tenacity the world had never seen before.
If a serviceman didn’t see my grandfather in the engine room at exactly that moment, he would have sealed the hatch. Fred didn't know who pulled him out, but he was the last man out of the engine room. He spent three days alone in a life raft under the blistering South Pacific sun with a gashed neck. Tiger sharks circled below, Japanese Zero planes, above. But Fred had a dream. He would get off that life raft. He would get back to Western Massachusetts, marry his sweet-heart, and build a big family house with his own bare hands. A big comfy one for kids and, later on, maybe their kids, too.
And that’s exactly what my Grandfather did.