Sunday, August 28, 2011
"Greatest Generation" Has to be Based on More Than Media Hype
"The hallmark of a great civilization is its ability to wage peace, not war." - Gene Roddenberry
When one lives overseas for any length of time, especially in other English-speaking nations that formerly were part of the British Empire, the first thing noticed is an inherent conservatism in choice of language. Seldom, if ever, does one find the word "greatest" bandied about, whether in terms of a performance (say at the Royal Albert Hall in London), or a figure of sports or film, or a generation. There is an inherent understanding that the word - if overused- becomes trite and meaningless. Thus, the much ballyhooed understatement of the British, who may describe an especially well-acted play as "fair" while his American cousin babbles "the greatest".
So it is with the recent TIME piece with its front cover focusing on the "New Greatest Generation", describing those who either have served or are now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. But interestingly, one letter writer responding to the piece, didn't agree. He wrote (p.2, TIME, Sept. 5):
"In updating the term 'Greatest Generation' you trivialize it. The term was adopted to honor those who fought in World War II'. More than 291,000 died in combat, 671,000 were wounded and more than 73,000 are still missing in action."
Even this only tells part of the story, and also misfires on the definition of the "Greatest Generation" - which encompassed not only those on the front lines - battling both the Japanese Empire (in the Pacific) and Nazi Germany (in Europe and N. Africa) but those at home making huge sacrifices. Those sacrifices included masses of women working on the weaponry assembly lines (symbolized by "Rosie the Riveter") to every citizen paying a much higher income tax to defray the costs of the war, and also accepting severe rationing on gas and food items. In other words, that entire generation sacrificed and was unified behind a single will to prevail over combined fascist -totalitarian empires that would have subjugated us with any less effort! So, to compare the current armed services (who let us not forget joined to be PAID for their service) with those of that era is nothing short of absurd.
To even remotely compare the relatively small set of those fighting the so-called "war on terror" to the most widespread war in human history, with more than 100 million military personnel mobilized across more than 40 countries, is nothing short of preposterous!
To compare a regionally-localized set of skirmishes (mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan) that saw paid volunteers facing IEDs, and roadside bombs - causing thousands of casualties to one which spanned the globe, ended up in the deaths of 60-70 MILLION, and included the use of nuclear weapons - is historically tone deaf and ignorant. Indeed, as the TIME letter writer observed, it trivializes the meaning of "greatest" to call the current troops or their connections, the "new Greatest generation".
But this has stuck in my craw ever since Bush Jr. launched the pre-emptive Iraq invasion in March, 2003 which - not to put too fine a point on it - was an illegal act. Thus, not at all like the justified entry into WWII, after Pearl Harbor, because Iraq had nothing, not one damned thing, to do with 9-11. Indeed, the U.S. invasion of Iraq had much more in common with the German invasion of The Sudetenland in Czechoslavakia, in 1938. "Shock and Awe" indeed! How about "Blitzkrieg 2"?
Many have also observed the Iraq invasion marked the U.S. violation of Principle VI of the Nuremberg laws, to wit:
PRINCIPLE VI "The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law: "(a) Crimes against peace: "(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i)."
Thus, in contrast to waging a war of DEFENSE against true aggressors, as in WWII, the U.S. under the Bush regime chose to invade a sovereign nation that had no part in any attack on 9-11. They did it for control of strategic oil reserves, and the biggest benefactors were linked corporations, such as Halliburton, Bechtel etc. These and other private corporate parasites reaped hundreds of billions in taxpayer money off the unprovoked Iraq incursion. Meanwhile, one could follow the Bushies' desperate efforts to try to parlay their invasion of Iraq on terms similar to WWII, such as comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler - when their 'Shock & Awe' essentially ripped apart what was left of Saddam's air force in thirty minutes. Meanwhile, Hitler's Luftwaffe terrorized all of Europe and assisted in more than a half dozen invasions.
Even Afghanistan is something of a farce, as the U.S. was actually in the process of negotiating with the Taliban for oil pipeline rights before 9-11. Also - the actual perpetrators of 9-11 were Saudis, from Saudi Arabia - yet all their associates (including bin Laden relatives) were permitted to fly out of the country in the aftermath! Meanwhile, the small scale encounters and "fire fights" experienced in Afghanistan can't be compared in any legitimate way with the raging land and air battles seen just in the Guadalcanal campaign of WWII. See e.g.:
Easily evident, despite all the over the top comparisons of the current terror war to WWII, is there is no comparison! The historical differences, not only of intensity but scale, are as vast a chasm as the Pacific Ocean itself.
So why does the popular press-media persist with its fulsome jabber and hyperbolic nonsense pseudo-analogies? One reason is because people, citizens are less historically educated today, so that they can get away with it! If people know very little of history, especially the great wars of history, then they won't know the difference if anyone claims the current "war on terror" is a real war (despite NO taxes being paid for it) and is on a par with WWII. It is simply gulped down with other refuse. Recall then Jefferson famous words in his 'Notes on Virginia':
"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. AND TO RENDER THEM SAFE, THEIR MINDS MUST BE IMPROVED."
In other words, Jefferson believed that an unread populace - one which refuses to improve its collective mind- would be an easily manipulated and exploited populace, especially by a government determined to map out its own agenda. In this respect, the last ten years have seen military budgets explode on the basis of a specious "war on terror" while our domestic infrastructure and needs go begging. And yet, we behold puff pieces essentially praising those who were part of this military propaganda game. (Btw, for interested readers, please check out 'The Pat Tillman Story' now on HBO).
In the end, however, the only way out of this exploitative propaganda, which benefits only the Pentagon and its protectors in congress, is to expose the erroneous conflation and analogies wherever they appear.
Does this mean the service people returning from Afghanistan and Iraq merit no acknowledgement? No, it does not! They certainly merit at least as much as those who returned from Vietnam (a conflict which claimed 58,000 American lives) but as we've seen - no one in the corporate media has referred to that generation as 'great' in any way! So what gives?
This brings us to the second reason the corporo-media presses false analogies, especially concerning wars now and then. Because in a 24/7 news cycle any media outfit will grab onto anything in order to sell copy. You see it not only in news magazines, but newspapers as well. While in 1960 the choice and selection of stories would be strict, now - with over 30 cable news stations- it's indiscriminate. Thus, TIME's calling the current generation of warriors "great" makes total sense.
Now, another reader responding in TIME's letters section (ibid.), wrote that this group ought to be called "the greatest of a generation". But even this is replete with problems, because it essentially implies all those who were non-combatants (in two occupations which are questionable ab initio) are little better than chopped liver! So all those who volunteered (for less than one half the money) for 'Teach for America', or the Peace Corps, or 'Doctors without Borders' merit no kudos or attention on a par with those who blast out villages with suspected Taliban, raid homes or use drones to attack targets.
Sorry, but this cannot be right and nothing can make it so.
So what label is to be used? In an era in which truth and fact-checking is in short supply, and the bulk of our populace are historically challenged? Perhaps none. Maybe TIME ought to have left its heros as the "new No Names" or just the No Names. Once history itself puts them into proper perspective, perhaps a more objective parsing is possible.
Right now, I'd say it's premature, since - like Vietnam in 1968 - we still have zero idea of how either Iraq or Afghanistan will turn out.
At least in my dad's war, the nation (with strong allies) prevailed against its fearsome foes!