Now comes Memorial Day, as if we need more solemn reminders of what Americans used to be so long ago.
Once, we were a nation forged in revolution, a land that paid for its independence in blood. Once, when the Nazis threatened the world, we sent 16 million soldiers off to fight and more than 400,000 never returned. Once, we lost 54,000 soldiers in Korea, then another 90,000 service members during Vietnam.
So many wars, so many who paid the ultimate price.
Now we whine over eight weeks without a manicure and 50 governors closing the dining rooms in 50 states full of Denny’s and Pizza Huts. Now, when asked to wear a mask in Costco, some of us protest like Paul Revere, warning not of the oppressor British coming but of potentially being inconvenienced on our way to buy 24-packs of extra soft toilet paper.
Last week, a buddy of mine passed along the latest COVID-19 reportage by the New York Times, a woeful missive headlined “Facing Adulthood With An Economic Disaster’s Lasting Scars.”
The story detailed the plight of young Matthew Henderson, a recent graduate of Loyola University and former intern at the British Consulate in Chicago.
Tragically, young Matthew’s “chances of turning that opportunity into a permanent job after graduation ran headlong into the coronavirus pandemic,” the story noted.
Now Henderson is back living at home with mom and dad in Indiana, “unemployed and considering jobs at Costco and Target to help pay off $24,000 in student loans.”
The Times noted: “‘I’m in this bubble of anxiety,’ said Mr. Henderson, who just turned 21. “I have to pay these, but I have no money to pay them.’”
The tale went from sad to absurd when it cited a recent opinion piece published by the blog Lawfare. Authored by historian David Kennedy and retired general Karl Eikenberry, “World War COVID-19: Who Bleeds, Who Pays?” compared the pandemic to living through wartime – except that in war it’s the young who die and with COVID-19, it’s the oldest among us.
However, wrote Kennedy and Eikenberry, “it is the young – including indebted students and struggling mortgagors, parents supporting families paycheck-to-paycheck, precarious recent graduates and anxious first-time job seekers – whose lives will be most deeply scarred.”
Let us speak plainly, given that this is Memorial Day weekend, a time when – between barbecues and beers – we pay homage to America’s war dead.
I know that our President has suggested he is a “wartime president” and apparently the New York Times agrees with him – for perhaps the first time ever. I know that a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of Americans is no small matter. I know the demolished economy is horrific. My family, too, has been touched by that gut punch, like yours. But let’s be real.
To compare America this Memorial Day to, say, America between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan – to compare the national sacrifice, the loss of life, the number of barely post-adolescent boys condemned to die in places like Normandy and Okinawa?
Get hold of yourselves people.
Yes, dead is dead. Yes, this pandemic has been full of personal tragedy. But let us not confuse viruses and lockdowns with Nazis and bombs, the draft and the battlefield.
This Memorial Day, let us pause that much longer to thank those who gave all so that we could give some to fight off a virus. There is no comparison, after all.