Last Thursday was Veterans Day. With the exception that banks were closed, there was no mail delivery and some schools took a day off, it was almost an invisible holiday. Apparently we were all too busy to notice.
I spent some time between candidate interviews outside my office on Main Street in downtown Dallas watching an incredible, nearly 90-minute parade with military and high school bands, drill teams and other floats. But it was the dozens upon dozens of World War II and Korean Veterans riding in vintage Willys Jeeps, in the back of troop transport trucks, and in convertibles, waving to a sparse crowd that was not even one person deep in front of high-end retailer Neiman Marcus, that touched me. Their smiling faces filled my heart with profound appreciation for the incredible sacrifice they made.
I have freedoms. I own a successful and expanding business. I have a lovely wife who puts up with me, four wonderful children who are all successful in their own right, and two beautiful grandchildren. I am a lucky man. I have all this because of the hard choices and sacrifices these men and women, and the thousands more like them, were willing to make before I was even born.
In the extraordinary HBO series “Pacific” there is a great line, when an understanding father tells his wife not to worry that her son, who only weeks earlier had returned from the horrors of an island-by-island war against Japan, was not yet ready begin his life anew. “You have no idea what he has been through,” he said as he consoled her, ” You just have no idea.”
Those words on a script had enormous power because you know they were true, that they had been uttered by hundreds of other fathers and mothers who understood the living nightmare their sons had survived. The whole country knew it. And they were thankful.
I only wish that type of personal and national sacrifice for the common good of our country could be recreated in 2010.
In our current war, we sent our young men and women to battle Islamic radicals and then headed to the shopping mall where we all stayed, figuratively speaking, until the financial meltdown caused by those who were so arrogant, so entitled, so self-centered and so clueless about the values epitomized by the Greatest Generation nearly triggered a worldwide financial catastrophe.
When we look at ourselves today, we should be ashamed. The rampant self-centered greedy values of many Wall Street bankers, mortgage brokers and corporate CEOs, the disregard for business ethics and their disingenuous “shareholder first” strategy that was almost always about their big bonuses not the success of the companies they ran was beyond shameful. The actions of the regulatory agencies, who by law should have stopped this mess by enforcing existing laws and regulations, and the majority of of our politicians, who looked the other way while the foxes invaded the henhouse, was unseemly. The recent election notwithstanding, it would seem that members of Congress — “the grand benevolent asylum for the helpless,” as Mark Twain once wrote — who have run up huge deficits, are more interested in getting re-elected than making sacrifices for the good of this country.
When we remember those brave veterans and the millions of Americans who were willing to sacrifice everything for the common good of our nation in contrast with our current “Me First” lifestyle that far too many Americans financed largely with credit card debt and crappy mortgages, it is unnerving.
You would think that the crisis in the banking system and the near financial anarchy that occurred in late 2008 would cause all of us to pause, to take a step back and embrace a new normal economy that is based on real honest to goodness value. But that does not appear to be the case, does it?
We do not seem willing to sacrifice for the common good. We just have no idea.
What is sad is that I am not sure that the next generation, unlike the Greatest Generation, even cares that much. If their parents still have jobs, they are probably at the mall.
© 2010 John Gregory Self