I have a friend on Facebook who trades back and forth, the front spot of which of us is the first to post random news items on our pages. He’s a researcher by trade, so when I get to scoop him by posting certain things on FB first, I feel pretty good about myself. Yesterday, it was his turn to beat me to some news. Some news that had me leaking out of the corners of my eyes when I read it: Dick Winters, the hero and author of Band of Brothers*, had died in Pennsylvania on 2 January 2011. He had asked for a small and unannounced services, and his death went unreported for 8 days.
I am astounded by this. Our media is overrun with the comings and goings of barely dressed, barely educated twenty-something drunkards, our government would rather measure penis size than govern, a large portion of the populace on unemployment has found that continuing to accept benefits is more lucrative than actually finding a job, and the death of a man who played a major part in allowing those freedoms to exist only to be abused goes largely unnoticed.
Major Winters and the men he served with in Easy Company during WWII are members of an all but extinct class of person. They served their country out of a sense of duty and purpose. They snuck out of hospitals after injuries, before being cleared officially for duty in order to be standing by the side of their friends at the next battle. They lived by unspoken codes of honor that acknowledged hard work as a matter of course and not something to be put up with for compensation. They were heralded as heroes, and yet, not a one accepted that moniker as his own; merely explaining that they did what they did out of a sense of personal pride, loyalty and brotherhood. Some returned home to make their fortunes, but most continued with lives of modest means, blue collar jobs and a code of personal ethics that would die within the next few generations.
I look around me and see in my own world, a shriveled and calcified chancre of a society. Where people used to be embarrassed by having to accept government aid and were spurred by responsibility to make their lives better and provide for their own, there is now an unwarranted sense of entitlement, an idea that handouts are required and due. Community and camaraderie have been replaced with vanity and self-importance.
Unions have worn out their welcome and serve now only to impede progress and grasp the most benefit for the least work. Life in general has become litigious, with large portions of people looking only for a big payout instead of accepting the consequences of their own stupidity.
We are teaching our children how to be winners (Everyone Gets A Trophy!) but neglecting to show them how to lose. This practice encourages them to look at us expecting that we’ll brush them off after failure and place them a few steps ahead instead of expecting them to try again and ‘make it’ by virtue of effort instead of handout. We allow bullying in our lunchrooms and prescribe medications instead of encouraging dialogue.
Our girls are driven by unrealistic standards of beauty and encouraged to hide their intelligence, learning early that a flash of vagina is funny and the vapid batting of eyelashes could make them famous. Boys find brotherhood in gangs and low-riding pants, and discover on the playground and on TV that might is right. Both learn to eschew personal responsibility from a dissolving family unit, parental models that stand with their hands out themselves and a mainstream media that is constantly pointing the finger for larger woes at politicians or video games or violent television series.
Right and wrong are wavering lines depending on who has the better story or can lie more effectively. Gone are personal responsibility and strict moral code. A make-your-own-luck attitude replaced by the certainty that something is bound to, has to, will drop itself in your lap.
These men, like Major Winters, who fought for our freedoms, who looked at the ugliness of places like Dachau and endured the miserable winter in places like Bastogne, could never have imagined how badly we’d go on to bastardize their efforts. They didn’t fight so that we could have everything for free. They fought so that it would be possible for us to continue to work hard and operate freely. It saddens me, crushes me, nauseates me to know that his death went so unnoticed while Snooki’s book gains and uncontrollable momentum.
It’s time to reset priorities. Time to stop the culture of the hand-out. I’m in favor of a cultural revolution. One not based on the newest song by Britney Spears, but on the knowledge that something has to give, because the balance doesn’t work if we’re all continuously taking.
*If you have not had the fortune of reading his memoir, co-authored by Stephen Ambrose, or of seeing its eponymous HBO miniseries, I highly recommend that you do both. You should set aside a full day, however, because the minute you’re finished with the first episode, you won’t want to leave your chair until you’ve finished all 10 hours….it’s one of the most amazing things I have ever seen; I’ve watched it from beginning to end five times, and that fifth will certainly not be the last.