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Oddly festive in a time of war

February 06, 2005|by Jim Strongin

To the editor:

I grew up during World War II, and my memory is of a time when my father was absent for almost three years while he was overseas. It was a time of many blue stars hanging in windows and too many of gold, denoting that someone had made the supreme sacrifice for his country.

It was also a time when we at home proudly displayed the, "A", "B" and "C" gas rationing stickers on our windshields - a small enough sacrifice to ensure that our armored vehicles had fuel. Food stamps restricted us to essential commodities to place on our tables. Diet staples like sugar, butter, milk and meats were in short supply - the better to feed our troops overseas. We bought war bonds by the millions to invest in our nation's war effort.

Those of us who lived along our coasts drew blackout shades at night and posted ourselves as air raid wardens to watch for enemy aircraft whose silhouettes we had memorized. Though this was a time before the wonders of television with its ability to transport one right into the thick of battle at the instantaneous push of a button, we still were able to participate in far off events through our daily newspapers and magazines at a relative snail's pace.

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Even so, the stark, week-old, black and white battlefield images in Life Magazine were still shudderingly realistic enough. Strange sounding names like, Kasserine Pass, the Bulge, Monte Cassino, Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Hiroshima became integral parts of our vocabularies. Even though our nation was separated from its enemies by the security afforded by two vast oceans, we still proudly made our meager sacrifices to help those we loved who were in harm's way.

Because we could participate in our own small way, we and our government became totally immersed in the goal to win a war against an easily definable enemy with an abhorent ideology. Since then, America's wars have lacked this easy definition of "the good guys vs the bad guys," in spite of much political rhetoric to the contrary. Korea, "The Forgotten War," ended with that nation split down the middle.

History has borne out the fallacy of that decision. Vietnam, was our contribution to the support of failed French colonialism. The Gulf War, with its blitzkrieg-like quick fix without resolution, left some of us beginning to ponder the judgments and motives of our so-called leaders. They show a strange affinity for choosing questionable companions with whom to share our foxholes.

Now, at the start of George Bush's second term we, again, find ourselves committed to a highly questionable, ill-defined war. Yet, in light of the festivities that were planned for this once-every-four-year event, how can one seriously accept the premise that we are at war? Except for the 150,000 troops we have on the ground in Iraq and for their loved ones back home; except for the 3,000 who died on 9/11 and their families who, in America, are truly immersed in a wartime mind-set?

After the events of 9/11, were we asked to make any sacrifice for the war effort? Rather, our president advised us to return to normal life; to prepare to shop for the upcoming holidays. And, since that time, we have been on a course of business as usual. The nation celebrated while its troops were in harm's way. How many of them became casualties during the $40 million festivities at which the "chosen few," (chosen by dint of their pecking order and pocketbooks) danced their boots off at nine inaugural balls? Try to tell the families of the dead that they did not die in vain.

Shall we tell them that they died so that we could have a ball? At a time when the world is faced with some of its most vexing crises, how dare they mouth the word "compassion?"

Jim Strongin
Hagerstown

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