Sunday, November 30, 2008
The violence in Mumbai, in Iraq, Afghanistan and several other parts of our world today has me thinking, how little we in the U.S. truly understand what such things really mean. Yes, there was 9-11. It was horrendous. And there is violence on a small scale going on every day. But I really believe that we have come to a point at which, unless it happens to one of us individually, we view it almost as if it happened on TV or in a movie. We think of that as entertainment, and when we read or hear it on the news, it is not real to us.
I recall the start of World War II. I was eight years old. My big brother put on a uniform and went off to the Signal Corps. My mother hung a little banner with a blue star, in the front window. We received photos of Bill during basic training, and later from England, then Belgium, then Germany. By that time we had black out curtains on the windows at night. Any time we went to the movies, as the lights were dimming, we stood up and sung the National Anthem as loudly as we could. The newsreels were almost as exciting as the weekly serial on Saturday afternoon. We had scrap rubber and scrap metal drives at school.
And what did all of this mean to an eight year old? It was fun! My brother was in the Army. His best friends were Frank, in the Navy, and Bill, in the Marines. Before being shipped overseas, they came home on furlough, and had exciting and sometimes funny stories to tell. It was fun. Later there were V-mail letters to write and receive. All fun. Lots of the letters from them had been censored, and it was fun to imagine what those black spaces might mean.
Those three all came home safe, thank God. Although when friend Bill came home, having survived Iwo Jima, he couldn't be discharged right away because he came down with measles. My brother Bill had been through the Battle of the Bulge. He never talked much about his overseas service. We had a cousin who never came back.
But it was all fun. It wasn't here. It was "over there". My brother only told his eight- then nine, ten, eleven year old sister about the nurses he dated in England, and the children he had met in Belgium. He was only nineteen himself when he left.
I had a lot of growing up to do before I could wrap my mind around what war is really all about. I don't think I'll ever understand what terrorism is all about.
I wonder if any of us - with the exception of the men and women who actually fought in World War II, or Korea, Viet Nam, the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan - if any of the rest of us really understands. I don't. I don't want to either - but I feel the need to understand.