The other day I was watching a rerun on PBS of Ken Burns’ documentary on World War II. What struck me is how many millions of our people volunteered at great risk to defend democracy against the existential threat of Naziism.
Over 400,000 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned home, and many more were injured and never the same. Mostly young men, many of them never had the chance to marry and raise families. Countless Americans who did not actively serve in the military also sacrificed. Meat, dairy, coffee and gasoline were rationed, and people collected scraps, planted victory gardens, and bought war bonds—all for the common good.
Today, we are battling another existential threat—the COVID-19 virus. This year alone it looks like the virus will kill twice as many Americans as died in any one year of fighting during World War II, but the word “sacrifice” is rarely heard.
Politicians of all persuasions are hesitant to ask the people to do anything. Multi-trillion-dollar companies pay little or no taxes as we drown in national debt, millions of people refuse to wear masks and others party as if these times were normal.
A television commentator recently referred to college football in the South as a “religion.” You would think that canceling a game between Alabama and Georgia is tantamount to asking our young men to die on the beaches of Normandy.
President John F. Kennedy asked the American people in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Having lost a brother in World War II and having narrowly escaped a similar fate in the Pacific conflict, Kennedy knew all too well the meaning of sacrifice.
We are not simply living in the #MeToo era, we are living in the time of “Me, Me.” There exists little sense of shared common good and virtually no expectation of sacrifice.
What has happened to us?