War Protesters Spawned Selfish, Apathetic Generation


Untouched by War
by James Syring

Victory gardens. Gas rationing. The people of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” can easily recall those symbols of the sacrifices that took place on the home front during the Second World War. That generation, having come through the Great Depression, had been forged in the furnace of scarcity and sacrifice.

When war broke out, they rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. Adult males lined up to join the military. The scions of wealthy families and the best and the brightest of the Ivy League stood shoulder to shoulder with barely literate backwoods kids and inner city toughs, all united in wanting to serve their country. Children saved aluminum foil and helped collect tires. Women donned overalls and streamed into the factories to build planes and tanks and took pride in being collectively known as “Rosy the Riveter.”

War is not something that anyone wants to have to take part in and only those who haven’t drawn or shed blood naively glorify it but that period in our history still stands out because it was the last time our nation was united in a cause that had everyone pulling together for victory…


Korea is called the forgotten war. After all, unless you want to argue with those who fought there, it was not a war but a police action, a police action that just happened to leave, in its wake, over 33,000 Americans dead.

Vietnam, for the most part, was unpopular with a generation of young men like Bill Clinton who didn’t want to give up their safe haven on campus to serve and let less fortunate young men serve in their place. Few were truly against war. They were against being inconvenienced in their pursuit of the good life. I recall a story written by a former Harvard student.

He told how he was on a bus with his classmates returning from a seminar on how to avoid military service when his bus passed a bus from Chelsea, a working class district of Boston, filled with draftees most likely on their way to the war. The writer said that in his later years, he suffered great guilt wondering who of those draftees may have died in his place.

And of course there is our war hawk Vice President, Dick Cheney, who currently takes part in sending young men and women off to die but when asked why he didn’t serve in Vietnam, flippantly replied, “I had other priorities.” I’m sure many of the youngsters who died in Vietnam wanted to have other priorities too.

Vietnam was a “working class” war and the demise of the draft has made permanent the fact that most enlistees are not children of privilege. It is my understanding that no member of the U.S. Congress has a son or daughter serving in the military. What a far cry from when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son served in the Pacific with the Marine Corps while his father waged war.

So, today, the Iraq War has taken almost 3000 lives and left limbless or brain damaged almost 18,000 and, except for their families and their comrades-in-arms, few mourn the loss and fewer rush to refill the ranks.

Even the shock, anger and calls for unity in the country after 9/11 were short lived. How many felt that it was terrible that 3000 of our countrymen died at the hands of ruthless terrorists but almost immediately moved on with their lives? For every person like a Pat Tillman who walked away from fame and success to serve, thousands just kept right on enjoying their lives without a thought about those who were at war half a world away.

What an exaggerated sense of entitlement they must have to not give up their lattes and the nights out entertaining themselves while some young man or woman their age who has been living on MRE’s, huddles in a bunker trying to catch some sleep before going out on patrol in a hostile environment.

How have we come to have such a selfish generation? Many are the offspring of former Vietnam War “protesters”. I recently read an essay by a very successful writer who had been against the Vietnam War while she attended her Ivy League College. She said that if she thought there was any chance that her son would be forced to go to war, she would buy him a ticket to Canada. But I guess it would be OK for some other kid to die in his place. Welcome to the world of the “sunshine patriots”.

As we head into a holiday season, where many of us will gather in warm houses and share a generous meal with friends and family, please remember that somewhere out in a mean, dangerous world, some young man or woman, wearing our country’s uniform, will miss another holiday celebration at home because they are risking their lives in the honest belief that they are helping to keep us safe here at home.

Bless them all.



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