31 March 2007

In which I temporarily become a 60 year old man

I played tourist tonight, and hit the Tidal Basin for some sunset cherry blossom excitement (pics to come). I did the usual bit -- walking down the mall, around the TB towards the Jefferson Memorial, and continued on. It wasn't too terribly crowded, though it was hairy in a few spots. It was starting to get dark by the time I got to the FDR Memorial, which, being one of my two favorite memorials in town, I perused again -- from the beginning, not the end, like a good person. The quotes and stones and water features tell a story, and you can't really read it backwards. After snapping a few shots of some of the fountains and falls, and taking a moment to sort of sink into the gravity of the end of the Second World War and the weight of the Four Freedoms engraved in the wall, I continued on my way. I decided then to visit the Korean War Memorial, my other favorite. Both my grandfather's were in the military during that conflict, one in the Navy and one in the Army. Fortunately, they never actually got deployed to Korea proper (though the one in the Navy did patrol the East China Sea a lot). In their honor, I wrote my senior thesis in college about the ceasefire negotiations during that war. The best compliment I ever got from anyone was when the two of them agreed, "that's pretty much how we remember it."

Anyway, my point...

By the time I got to the Korean War Memorial, I had encountered the hordes of middle school spring break trip groups. Near the pool near the top of the memorial, I saw a park ranger sit down and look sullen. He was probably about 60 or so, and just looked down. Indeed, one lady even asked if he was OK. I sat on the same bench for awhile, staring in a different direction, losing myself in thought. The kids were atrocious. One group was being led by a teacher with a toy light saber. "The statues are creepy!" The photos etched on the wall "look like ghosts."

Of course they look like ghosts. The people in those pictures (though slightly altered) represent the service members who died in that war. The statues of soldiers marching up the hill look scared because war is scary. It's not all pressed uniforms and shiny medals and big planes. It's people slogging through mud and dust killing and getting killed. It's the worst of humanity. Too often these days, wars are fought by children, and the dead are civilians, not soldiers. Just when we thought we'd hit our lowest point, we keep going lower.

And these kids don't get it. I fear they never will. Hell, my own generation doesn't get it, and some of us are being sent to fight and die for a ludicrous cause as we speak. But it doesn't touch us, really. Sure, the price of gas has gone up, but most of my friends don't have cars, so that doesn't really have much effect either. In a way, it's good that young people in America don't know what war is like. Not the huge, commit the country to the fight kind of wars of years past. But these privileged, sheltered kids don't get it. They're running around, trampling over things, screaming, yelling obscenities, and are completely untouched by trouble. For the most part, the kids tonight were white, looked relatively affluent, and probably suburban. It's not so much bothersome that they've never been touched by war, it's that they don't seem to know hardship at all.

I saw a book at the bookstore the other day entitled The "Me" Generation. I don't want to be a part of that. My grandparents grew up in the Depression in rural Tennessee. They had nothing. Literally nothing. Food was grown in the backyard, and what you couldn't grow or raise yourself, you couldn't have. While my childhood was leaps and bounds beyond that, there was still struggle involved. As a teenager, I worked after school and on weekends, and my single mother worked two jobs. We still had trouble making ends meet. If not for a scholarship, I wouldn't have gone to college. And yet in spite of that, the notion was still pounded into my head, primarily by my grandparents, that I needed to serve. There's a world out there bigger than me or anybody else, and I need to do my part, even if it's something small.

When Tom Brokaw released his book, The Greatest Generation, I was pretty incensed. I was young, idealistic, etc, (OK, I'm still those things), and thought perhaps it was premature to proclaim the greatest generation. But maybe it wasn't. Maybe it's time for the "Me" generation. Maybe there was a time when the country came together to do something big and with broad perspective, and maybe that just won't happen again. But I hope not.


Professor Howdy said...


Dear Friend,

After much thought, I have decided
to leave 'Thought & Humor'.

The reasons are many but they all boil
down to this: Nobody writes me anymore
so it must mean that they don't like me
or my college jokes, riddles, cartoons
or funny pictures:O(

I was hoping people would contact me
by posting a kind message in the
"comments" on my blog but few have.


P.S. All of you liberals can now be happy
because I am giving up. You have finally
won after 10 years of publishing...

P.P.S. The sad song playing on my blog
really fits my mood! You know I think
that I might have possibly visited your
site awhile back. Do you remember
or am I wrong?

jterry said...

@ professor howdy:

I noticed you posted your comment on your blog as well, though you made a few additions here. First, I've never heard of your blog before, so I don't really feel sorry for not commenting on it. As for the liberals winning, let us not engage in such debased discourse. Just because I'm a liberal doesn't mean I want conservatives to stop talking, it just means I don't agree with them, though I expressly do so in as civil a manner as possible, even though I do often frame my posts here in sarcastic and/or satirical terms. As for whether or not you've visited my site before, I haven't the foggiest notion. I haven't seen a comment from you before, and I don't really keep track of IP addresses or anything, so who knows. Anyway, I hope commenting here has made you feel better about the demise of your blog. I'm gonna go back to my life now.