A typical sixth-grade class is beginning a typical mid-September school day. The blond kid in the third row raises his hand.
“I heard on the radio this morning that a plane crashed into a building in New York.”
Nineteen other students are temporarily a little surprised, but there are sentences to diagram and fractions to divide and sloppy joes to eat and then buses to board, and no one thinks much about it until they get home and discover their usually hard-working parents sitting in front of the news in the middle of the afternoon, tears spilling out of their eyes.
The gravity of the situation begins to dawn on them.
Five years later, those sixth-graders are halfway through high school. They have watched their older brothers, sisters, and cousins pack a bag and go off to fight a faraway war, a war with an alleged connection to images of rubble they remember from their childhoods.
They have discussions about how they hate the government, the President is an idiot, and “war sucks.” Why can’t we all just get along? they ask each other, a refrain they’ve picked up without actually considering the ramifications. Why are their classmates actually fighting over there? Who are the “bad guys,” and where is Iraq, anyway? They hope you’ll be too distracted by their Jon Stewart quotes to ask such questions.
As a member of this class, this generation of apathy and anarchy, I am so grateful for a history professor who cared more about the people of the past than particular dates and times. I couldn’t tell you the dates of the Revolutionary War if my life depended on it, but I know this now: whether our boys come home in boots or body bags, they give their lives. Sometimes I think maybe the dead ones get the better deal – they never have to come home and realize that, far from being a hero, they are regarded by many as simply another tax burden and expected to return instantly from a life of try-to-stay-alive-long-enough-to-put-on-dry-socks-one-more-time to trying to get the mortgage paid and remember to pick up a box of dryer sheets without getting hateful stares from haughty middle-class members who would rather listen to themselves rant about what bad shape our foreign policy is in than hear stories about playgrounds built for Muslim children.
Our constant complaining about the way the nation’s affairs are run do nothing to ease this burden; this is why, whether I believe in the war or not, I believe in supporting our troops.
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