I remember 1941. We didn’t have television in those days. Most of us sat around the family radio in the evenings after dinner. I was 10 years old and completely mesmerized by the sounds of Japanese planes bombing and strafing our sailors at Pearl Harbor, and the serious tone of the radio announcer as he identified our warships being destroyed and the hundreds of American sailors being killed. My uncles began signing up, one by one, for the Army, Navy and Marines.
I wanted to sign up too, and so did all my young friends. Even at that age, we were full of patriotism and love for our country. We were Americans and proud of it, and we weren’t going to let anybody destroy our freedom.
We saved the tin foil from our chewing gum and turned in empty tin cans, and we gladly used ration stamps for gas and meat. When the stamps were gone, we stayed home and ate fish. Our parents planted Victory Gardens for vegetables and flew the American flag on the front porch, and we never went hungry. The unemployment rate sank to 1 percent so our dads either had jobs or were serving in the military. The whole country was united and thought about nothing but winning the war.
We never thought we’d lose. Even when it looked like the Japanese were going to win the decisive battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, we didn’t give up. The Japanese general had made it very clear to each one of his soldiers that they would die on that island before surrendering to the U.S. Marines. And they all did. We won, and in a few months, the war was over.
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Even when you win, however, war is hell. There’s no doubt about that. But when you don’t win -- when the enemy just regroups under a different name and comes back to fight you again -- it’s the worst kind of hell.
Today, Americans are tired and frustrated and sick of war. More than 6,800 of our men and women in uniform have died in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it seems we didn’t even win. Al-Qaida has become ISIS, and they’re chopping off our heads and threatening us with blood-curdling videos. But we’re staying clear, we’re not fighting back the way we did in the past because so many Americans no longer have the stomach for war. That’s why President Obama refuses to put American “boots on the ground.”
But how can we win? The president knows we cannot win this war without those boots. However, he’s counting on the 35,000 Kurdish soldiers called the Peshmerga to do the ground war for us, and he’s sending our troops in to train them. But what if he’s wrong? What if the Kurds, who have all the desire and courage they need, just can’t learn this skill in time? Fighting and winning a war takes a special kind of skill that our troops have learned the hard way. But can they teach it? “Doing” and “teaching” are two entirely different things.
Time will tell.
In the meantime, I dream of 1941. No, I am not as naïve as I was 73 years ago. Today I can see our country’s warts and moles and open sores that I couldn’t see when I was 10 years old. Today I cringe at the duplicity and hypocrisy in Washington and the greed on Wall Street. I sympathize and support the poor, but I loathe the healthy young men on welfare and disability.
However, I’m still just as patriotic and full of love for this country as I was back then. I’m proud to be an American, and I won’t let anybody destroy our freedom. If they’d take me at 83, I’d sign up today.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.