I've been thinking a lot about my father and his generation lately. They--the generation of Americans who lived through World War Two--have been called "the great generation," and I think there's a lot of truth to that.
They mobilized in massive numbers--black, white, Hispanic, Asian and everyone else--and went off to fight a totally justifiable war against an axis of powers committing genocide. The women worked in support roles and kept the economy humming, making sacrifices but turning out the materials needed to fight the war. Victorious, the soldiers returned home and spent the rest of their lives building a middle class that valued peace and prosperity, education and opportunity. Yes, there were still problems with this great society--racism and sexism among them--but their accomplishments far outweigh those.
What, one has to wonder, would that generation think of this one. They built a global coalition against true evil. This generation sat by while George Bush occupied a White House he had not won, and then kept sitting by while he launched a war against an enemy that had not attacked us, and that he knew had not attacked us. This generation seems consumed by greed and self-interest--clearly not the case with the "greatest generation," who went to war in Europe against an enemy that had attacked our allies but not our own shores. This generation seems content with the idea of pre-emptive attack--going after people who may, at some indeterminate point in the future, pose a potential threat to us. This generation doesn't even express mass outrage when the United States Congress debates how much torture is committed in our names.
If George W. Bush, like his father, had been a member of that generation, would he have said, "It's unacceptable
to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United
States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women
and children to achieve an objective."
Let's think the unacceptable for a moment. In Iraq--a country with no connection whatsoever to the terrorist attacks against the United States, depending on your source, anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 people have been killed since we invaded in 2003. We didn't kill them all--Iraqis have shown that they're quite capable of killing each other--but we killed plenty of innocent men, women and children, certainly more than the 3000 or so killed on 9/11. Was there any justification for that? They had not attacked us. They lived under the thumb of a brutal dictator, but you can't kill him 30,000 times.
My father saw first hand, in Europe, the horrors of the Nazi death camps, and knew that his war had a moral purpose. Later in life, while working at the Pentagon, he saw a Buddhist priest pour gasoline over himself and light himself on fire, to protest continued American military action in Vietnam and Cambodia. He knew then that not all wars were morally justifiable, that some are fought for reasons having nothing to do with the ideals of "protecting our freedoms," or anyone else's.
After 9/11, the world rallied around the U.S. George Bush's father, who had been part of that other generation (and had built a coalition in the first Gulf War, might have taken advantage of that opportunity to press for a peaceful world. But we're stuck with the wrong Bush, one from what we must sadly conclude is a lesser generation.
Not that it's too late to change. And we have models to look at, and emulate, in our own parents and grandparents. Maybe it's time for a closer look.