A reader writes:
Just wanted to weigh in on your fascinating discussion of the Greatest Generation. What has crossed me over and over again about that generation -- in talking to relatives, in talking to seniors, or even in watching documentaries (I just watched Burns' outstanding "The War") is the recurrence of this phrase: "We did what we had to do."
I can't imagine a more perfect statement of the concept of duty and fortitude. No one was eager to go to war or raise taxes or ration. But it was something that had to be done. It was as simple as that. There was a near-universal recognition that we didn't want a war, but we would do what we had to do. Yes, there was a draft. But that was mainly for organizational purposes. There was no shortage of volunteers. They knew what was needed and, when called, they went, they fought, they came home when their tour was finished.
I see that today when I talk to soldiers. They are not some crazy left- or right-wing caricature of a warrior. This is their job, this is their duty, this is their mission. They will do what has to be done. The humility of it is is astonishing.
To hear self-aggrandizing politicians, riding around in limos and charter jets, invoke that humble, almost casual commitment to duty is infuriating. I hear few voices saying that Americans need to do what must be done -- pay higher taxes, cut popular programs, make sacrifices, etc. And on the rare occasion when even a modicum of sacrifice is called for, it's wrapped up in the most purulent self-satisfied prose imaginable.
I will know we have returned from the partisan abyss when I hear a politician say, "This is what we need to do. It's not going to be fun and it's going to cost a lot of money. But it must be done." Obama occasionally veers close to that, which is why I have yet to turn my back on him.