My Uncle Jimmy is a softspoken man. In the chaos of family gatherings, he’s lucky if those of us who aren’t so quiet can hear him ask to pass the mashed potatoes. I once heard him call a woman who cut him off in traffic in Los Angeles a heifer. That shocked me, even though my language could make a Marine blush. It was the closest I’d ever heard him come to cursing. This is the same man who served as a crew member on a B-17 bomber in 50 missions during World War II.
I thought about him and others like him as I watched Ken Burns’ PBS documentary The War. It was fascinating viewing, with brutal war footage I’d never before seen. Choosing four American communities and focusing on how the war affected their citizens – those who served, as well as those who stayed behind – brilliantly brought into focus the hardships, sacrifices, courage, and loss of that time as Hollywood films never have.
I imagine most Americans passed up the chance to see a glimpse into one of the most important chapters in world history. Why would they bother with stories about the Bataan Death March, the battle for Guadalcanal, American citizens of Japanese descent being sent to internment camps, segregation of black service men, or an entire country buying war bonds, when they could catch up on Britney’s latest antics?
I believe this documentary should be required viewing in American high schools. The privileged youth of today should be given the opportunity to learn the reasons behind the freedoms they take for granted. It’s entirely possible that without the efforts of the Greatest Generation, these same teens might have become little more than programmed zombies working in factories, instead of being proficient in the use of computers, iPods, cell phones and video games. I was born ten years after World War II ended, but I get it. Spending a few hours watching The War took no effort on my part, but it’s the least I could do to honor the few remaining men and women around the world who sacrificed so much so I could grow up to be an outspoken smartass.
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