December 7, 1941 – “a day that will live in infamy…” President Roosevelt’s famous words launched America’s participation in a war that would claim millions of lives, reshape empires and usher in the nuclear age. On December 11, Hitler declared war on the USA, even though Roosevelt did not include Germany in the December 8th address to Congress. America was now allied with Great Britain and the Soviet Union in war that spanned every time zone and engulfed scores of nations.
Advent is a fitting time to give thanks to God for the gift of the Christ and the message of love and peace Jesus brings to the world. It is also an appropriate moment to thank the surviving WWII veterans for their service. There are fewer representatives of this “Greatest Generation” with us with each passing day. I was sad to hear the Pearl Harbor events are now scaled back – there are too few survivors left to sustain larger commemorations.
In thanking these veterans we are not glorifying war or nostalgically trying to reify some mythic past. There is nothing “good” about war. It is a sign of human sin and failure, a reminder of our rebellion against love and truth and our deep capacity for violence. The only good that comes out of war is the defeat of powers that would enslave humankind. Good is also found in the innumerable acts of bravery and kindness that take place in the midst of the night and fog of battle. Yes, it was good that Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were defeated. In order to achieve this, many men and women risked life and limb for years and returned home with emotional and physical scars. Most of these veterans sublimated the hurts and set about building the greatest era of economic prosperity in world history. Some returned to battle just years later, fighting an awful war of attrition in Korea.
December 7 is a day to remember courage, sacrifice and a generation that bequeathed liberty to much of the world. Alas, we have squandered much of this heritage. Perhaps in this moment of reflection we can remember those virtues that built our prosperity: hard work, thinking of others more than ourselves and partnering with others to confront challenges. I think our “public servants” in both parties can learn from our vets. A little more sacrifice (instead of another vacation, Mr. President), a lot more cooperation (are you listening Mr. Reid and Mr. Boehner?) and a renewal of concern for the future instead of our immediate comfort are the best ways we can say, “thank you” to our veterans – and “bless you” to future generations.
Let’s express appreciation to our veterans and allow the spirit of Advent to foster consideration of our deepest virtues. Perhaps 2011 will mark the advent of a new era of cooperation and service, with reverence for God and respect for our neighbors creating joyful communities.