I am beginning to sense a theme here. . .
During the break of a wildly frenetic concert last night by the Portland-based band “March Fourth” (see them at your peril. Don’t see them at your loss) my brother and I had a conversation. As usual, these conversations run to politics. Gary is a voracious reader and deep thinker. These days, his thoughts run to libertarianism to tame a government gone amuck.
“What does your friend think of this mess in the Gulf?” he asks me. My friend is a highly placed BP engineer. I tell him that we were playing golf back in April when the platform first went down and my friend said then that they wouldn’t stop the gusher until August, when the relief wells would be completed. Looks like my friend was on the money with that. Gary says he has read that because of the extreme pressures, there may be more leaks pushing up outside of the well casing.
From there, the conversation drifts to general mayhem and destruction to the Gulf shores and marine environment in general. We talk about the need for other sources of energy and then he asks me if I’ve spoken to another friend of mine who is developing a huge solar power generation station in AZ. “That guy looks like he is in the right place right now. We have to have alternatives.”
“Well, yes we do, but that means some interim sacrifices doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, and therein is the problem. No one wants to give up their Camaro for a bus ticket.”
“Nope,” sez I. “Ain’t gonna happen. Americans don’t like sacrifice.”
“No we don’t, if it can be avoided.”
What followed was a short discussion about our parent’s generation and what they did. Dad was born in ’21, mom in ’25. They lived through the Depression and dad signed up on Dec. 8 1941 to go shoot artillery around the Pacific. Mom and dad, those two made sacrifices, not only during the ‘30s and ‘40s, but all those years afterward raising four boys.
Here we are. Americans don’t like sacrifice. At least not the current iterations of Americans. Why? And now we get back to the theme.
You see, Gary and I were draft-aged during Vietnam. Our oldest brother graduated in ’66 and went straight into the military (by choice). Gary pulled a very high draft number so he was safe. I pulled a 69 in a year they drafted to 120. I had the good fortune of a “spontaneous pneumothorax” (or some such thing – it means a lung collapsed for no good reason) at 18, so this insured a three year deferment, by which time the draft was over. But the draft meant sacrifice could come to any household in the US not lucky enough to have a Congressman daddy.
The Depression. World War II. Korea. Vietnam.
When was the last time you were asked to sacrifice anything? I’ll tell you. It was when Carter Carter the peanut farmer pulled on a sweater and said “Lets end our dependence on foreign oil. Turn down your thermostats.” Along comes a B-grade actor who says “No! Its morning in America!” Screw the peanut farmer, I want my ‘Merica back. Give me morning! Even better – “Beat the terrists! Go shoppin’!” What’s happened since then?
Have you turned down your thermostat? Did you trade your Camaro for a Prius, or better yet, did you move back into the city so you could use public transportation? I haven’t. I like my 256hp turbo-charged Volvo parked in my suburban garage for my 23 mile commute to work. Well, I don’t like my Floridian-type wife to crank the AC in the summers, but for the most part in Colorado it isn’t quite the necessity it was where she lived.
But Vietnam taught our politicians to not ask us to sacrifice (Ok Jimmy was a little slow on that lesson). Vietnam told them that if you want to be able to lie cheat and steal at the highest levels you better tell Americans everything will just be fine if we will just go back to our TV sets. Now as I look at the images of the blackened, slicked sea birds, the dead fish, the greased wetlands, as I hear about tar balls in Texas and Florida, I wonder,
“Is it time to get over Vietnam?
Is it time we start the sacrifice conversation again?”