There seems to be widespread disagreement over just how bad things are nowadays on the home front, whether they rank among the most divisive times or pretty ordinary or downright inspiring. I see little of inspiration from either the White House or Capitol Hill, but apparently some do.
The key here are the two words “home front.” That’s how we are all getting along here in these United States of America. Times of war — at least the biggest ones— don’t count, and I’ll tell you why.
Americans were pretty much unified against a common enemy during both of the world wars. The casualties on the battlefields of Europe and in the devastating island warfare crisscrossing the Pacific during World War II were horrific, but Americans were all hanging tight in the good old USA, sticking together.
There was much anti-war sentiment in the United States in the years leading up to both world wars, but once we were in them, patriotism across the country kicked into high gear. The major bones of contention were how much of a commitment in men and machines we should make to save the necks of our allies. (Bones and necks in one sentence and nothing about anatomy or food? Aren’t clichés great?)
One of the best things about living in the United States during times of war, since the mid-19th Century anyway, is that so far we have thwarted invasion by another country’s army. Maybe we just lucked out.
The last five wars where battles were fought on U.S. soil in the contiguous United States were, in chronological order, the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Mexican American War and American Civil War. Now the first two on that list occurred when we were part of the British Empire, but winning the second one changed all of that.
Hawaii was not a U.S. state when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, leading us into World War II. The Battle of the Aleutian Islands may seem to qualify because it was part of Alaska, though barely, when U.S, and Canadian forces drove off Japanese garrisons from there during World War II. Then again, Alaska wasn’t a state then either. That would take another 17 years.
So it is safe to say there are few living Americans whose parents were even alive when enemy military forces engaged in battle on U.S. soil. That is especially true if you exclude our Civil War, which was essentially Americans killing Americans with few foreign mercenaries involved. Measured by generations, which, I understand, average about 35 years, about five generations have elapsed. That means our collective memory as a nation, passed from generation to generation, cannot grasp what it is like to have your homeland invaded by those intent on killing and destroying.
And though Americans do come together during times of war, we are always fighting on someone else’s turf. How would we have come out of it had New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, been bombed mercilessly as London was in World War II? I suppose that because of our immense size, compared to England, we would have withstood such incursions on our civilian population. More importantly, I believe no country would fight harder to preserve that freedom— even as a nation of immigrants whose foreign roots sprouted family trees here.
We could boast that we had never lost a war until we pulled out of Vietnam. We lost almost 58,000 American soldiers there, as verified by the number of names on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was fought over a political philosophy that was proved wrong, and life went on for the most part here as if it wasn’t happening. The rising voice of protest and the mounting number of coffins helped bring it to an end.
That seems to be a trend when you fight your wars in other countries. So things got increasingly strained on the home front during a war we called the Vietnam Conflict even as we had invested hundreds of thousands of young Americans, mostly male, in its conduct.
You might argue that Korea, our absentee war of the 1950’s, ended in a draw, and we’re still dealing with that conundrum. Our wars over the past three generations have been more like reality shows on the home front— yet they were all too real for those who have fought in them and their families.
Even with our flaws and mistakes, I still think we can remain a shining light for the rest of the world. It’s not too late if we hold fast to the ideals that created our Democracy.