Once upon a time, young men and women in America sought better lives for their families. There were a lot of things to overcome, from racism to sexism, which while terrible were also catalysts for action. People worked hard, worked together, and raised kids with values and character. The response of our country during WWII showed this, and that group has been called our greatest generation.
My father is part of that group, and his stories from the Korean War sync with a sense of sacrifice for the common good. Given his rank he had the choice of which weapon to carry. A pistol is the easiest – lightweight and compact. A machine gun may have been the coolest thing going at the time. But he chose the M1 Carbine rifle. Heavy and big – not the obvious choice.
He carried that rifle all over the country while working with the engineers to build airfields and then rebuild them after night-time mortar attacks destroyed the runways. While their group was moving heavy equipment by rail, my dad and some others noticed puffs of dirt toward the front of the train – snipers on a hill beginning to shoot at the train. The first few cars were all equipment but the last few were just unprotected troops on flat cars. My dad grabbed his M1, gave a buddy an ammo box and they went forward, crawling under a large bulldozer. Using that heavy, awkward M1 carbine, my father fired on the enemy while his partner kept feeding him ammunition. They were able to eliminate the threat and all the men on those last few cars had a better day because of it. With a pistol or a small machine gun they couldn’t even have reached the snipers out 200-300 yards from a moving train. So carrying that extra load paid off. I just heard that story for the first time last year when my dad celebrated his 80th birthday.
It seems like we’re losing the built-in spirit of carrying a heavy load for the good of everyone – hoping we wouldn’t have to use it but doing it anyway. Our kids are looking more for shallow indulgence through material gain rather than the quiet confidence of strong character and a sense of purpose. For this, our generation may have let down our forefathers. I’ve watched the amazing courage of the Japanese community facing one of the world’s worst disasters and wonder how America would have handled the same crisis. While we had people stealing, raping and killing in the New Orleans football stadium, the Japanese won’t even break into a soft drink dispense to get something to drink after water has run out. Talk about character.
We are capable of creating the next greatest generation – one that helps to reduce the impact we make on the planet, build a deeper joy of life in our lives – working together to get it done.
So maybe the new american dream should be about community building vs. building net worth, personal fulfillment through helping others rather than personal gain, and spiritual contentment rather than frantically busy schedules to take our minds of those big questions.
Just maybe the new american dream is alive and well, and is just waiting for us to nurture it and show others how satisfying life can be. I hope so.