D-Day to Doomsday
Recently, friends of ours returned from Normandy, where they had taken a tour of the D-Day battlegrounds and the American cemeteries there. I remember visiting the same hallowed grounds a few years back and feeling awed, grateful and humbled by the sacrifice of those involved with the invasion.
Our friends felt the same and proclaimed that being in those grounds made them proud to be Americans. I argued that it did the opposite for me. What those soldiers and the country accomplished in 1944 was inspiring and worthy of pride. Indeed, I am proud of what those Americans did and the America that was then.
I cannot help but compare the US of those days to the America of today. In 1944, the country united to accomplish an important goal. People sacrificed, including enduring the ultimate sacrifice, to accomplish that goal. Those that were not overseas did what they could to support those fighting. As a nation, we put aside our personal comfort to sacrifice for a greater good. The “we” was more important than the “me.”
The current America pales in comparison.
Instead of coming together to work on crucial issues--global warming, immigration, poverty--we bluster about how bad those who disagree with us are. Politics has become an exercise in supporting “your team” rather than solving problems. The “me” is now more important than the “we.”
I worry we would be unable to do what the previous generation (or two depending how old you are) did in comparable circumstances. We carry such suspicion of those with whom we disagree that we would be unable to unite against a common enemy.
I fear there is no easy way to turn the tide. However, schools must play a role. We must teach students to have difficult conversations. We must teach them to listen carefully, think critically and treat those that disagree with them with respect. To be given credence, arguments must be made logically and held together coherently. People who disagree with us should not be labeled bad or immoral.
This teaching is not easy in today’s zeitgeist. Social media and increasingly mainstream media outlets collect eyeballs (which is how they make their money) by vilifying the “other side.” Teaching students media literacy, including how media makes a profit, is a start to get students to think critically about what they see and hear from those outlets. Media literacy also helps students in determining reliable from unreliable sources.
Challenging respectful conversations and media literacy might start us back on the road to becoming a more united America. It is a big job, but it must be done if we are ever to be the America of 1944 again.
PS: I also don't want to give the impression that I am oblivious to the social wrongs that were occuring in 1944. That America was far from perfect, particularly if you were not a white straight male, and yet, all America came together to fight the Nazis.