It is important not to forget. To remember the best times. To keep in mind precious moments with family and friends—to go beyond the incessant clatter of the clattering classes.
I remember my Mom’s care while my Dad was in the Pacific Theater during WWII. The headlines she faced each day were bold—battles won or lost. Casualties. Wanting assurances, but having to wait days or weeks to get it. Hoping a soldier didn’t show up at her front door.
Dad came home. He had gone there to help—not to tour the marvels of curated culture on an Asian cruise. He fought, came home and was a good husband and father.
My Dad’s generation of men and the women, who mostly cared for the fallen troops, were globalists. They didn’t trade currencies or worry about bottlenecks in supply chains and travel for pleasure was for the most part a luxury they could not afford. So in my Dad’s case, he learned what was right about America by learning what was wrong about the Emperor’s Japan or the Fuhrer’s Germany. They saw the worst of man—power hungry heads of State and their henchmen manipulating human fears with words of superiority and domination and, of course, weapons.
They had lined up, endured the rigors of training at some far-off post and then shipped out. But now back home they strived while struggling. They had helped the world prevail over the Nazis and were now struggling to build “a more perfect union.” They had lived “out of many one” (E Pluribus Unum) but like all generations they struggled with human imperfections.
Perfection, the elusive perfection. It is indeed elusive because humanity rejects it. Christianity calls it “original sin”. Those who chronicle our way of life choose less weighty descriptions. But, lest we forget, America has been built on principles of greatness by the imperfect. Washington was not perfect nor was Lincoln, but they strived to live up to wisdom borrowed from the past and given enduring currency by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.
Today, thankfully, most international threats have been regionalized. But, the weapons of today have a cosmic reach and absolute lethality and can disable our software driven operating networks.
Shipping out to fight foreign wars is now discretionary, so most form their impressions at a distance shaped both by miles and experience. Dad fought what was truly an existential threat. Today’s warriors are more likely to be fighting on the home front and too often each other. Too many, uninformed or under informed, fight aspirational America because the aspirants, those who shaped America, were not perfect.
In some ways social media has recast our enduring mission; it is now too often, “Out of Many”, ME. I would suggest a variation on the enduring biblical admonition. Let he who is perfect, cast the first stone.
In the meantime, calm down. 21st Century humans are not perfect and striving to create perfection by attacking earlier builders is a fool’s errand. Certainly at any point there is the possibility of a better future, but the true builders will not be without humility.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.