By Ernie McCray
San Diego City Schools just finished up a “Support Our Troops Week.” And just the thought of such a celebration makes my heart weak.
I’ve already seen such hysteria in play. I was in second grade listening wide-eyed as grownups talked about some “Japs” in Nagasaki and Hiroshima being blown to smithereens. I can still see General MacArthur, one of my biggest childhood heroes, wading knee deep in water in the Phillipines, leading us to victory. I remember the loudspeakers in the park near my house blasting Kate Smith’s God Bless America over scratchy speakers that could be heard many blocks away.
As children, based on all we were seeing and hearing, we couldn’t help but be “patriotic” from our head to our toes. The likes of John Wayne and Audie Murphy thrilled us on the silver screen, pulling out handgrenade pins with clinched teeth and masterminding the destruction of our foes. Grand parties and perfomances headed by top recording stars were put on by the USO. “Buy War Bonds” posters were everywhere against backgrounds of red, white and blue. Old Glory blew in the air. “Supporting Our Troops” was as natural to us as breathing the air.
And we kids mimicked, in our play, the sounds of our times: bombs dropping; machine guns rat-a-tat-tatting; kamikaze pilots’ planes humming out of control before crashing to the ground; the Nazi like clicking of heels.
At school, though, while we pledged allegiance to the flag and stood for the National Anthem no one ever indulged us in any thought as to how it might feel to have one’s neighborhood, one’s homeland, practically evaporated into space. No one mentioned that Japanese Americans were interned in camps. No one ever explained how Hitler was allowed to get so out of hand. Hey, we were memorizing dates and trivia from the times of the Civil War. What was really happening in the world was never brought to our attention.
Therefore with little to no discussion about anything that was truly relevant to our lives we grew up robbed of crucial critical thinking skills. We grew up with no serious notion that there might be other solutions to conflicts between nations other than armed force.
Now we have a generation mimicking the noises out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Today’s children play war through video games that are pretty much like the real thing. They’re encouraged to become “Army Strong” and among the “Few, the Proud, the ...” in commercials accompanying the shows they watch on TV. Recruiters show up on their campuses at lunchtime to shoot the breeze. These are modern day approaches to the “Uncle Sam Wants You” mantra that was imbedded in my generation’s minds like nursery rhymes.
The saddest part about the “Support Our Troops Week” put on by San Diego City Schools is that our children, like the children of my time, are being mislead.They aren’t learning in their schools that Osama bin Laden didn’t come from Iraq. They aren’t learning in their schools that our president has no problem with the torturing of our nation’s prisoners. They haven’t been given the opportunity to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where thousands upon thousands of their fellow citizens have lost their lives and homes and hopes and dreams. And worse of all they haven’t been told that initiating Operation Iraqi Freedom was completely unnecessary and avoidable, that it is an illegal war, having broken international laws that govern how wars are to be conducted.
When a school system catches our children up in the hysteria that surrounds such a shameful war it does them a gross disservice. “Support Our Troops Week” has more than anything made it extremely likely that yet another generation of young people will come to be adults without considering how a planet of people can get along peacefully. That is as disgraceful as the war itself.
So maybe it’s time for a “Bring Our Troops Home Week.” That’s the support they need.
Ernic McCray is a retired San Diego city schools principal.