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Amy's Blog: One Author's Life 

Overcoming America's Political and Cultural Divide: A Suggestion

I wonder if a part of our national divide over culture and politics stems from the huge decline in the proportion of Americans who serve, or served, in the Armed Forces. Perhaps part of what made the Greatest Generation great was that such a large proportion of them fought in the war, and thus, got to know each other in ways they wouldn't have otherwise.

 

My dad's experience was typical in that regard. He enlisted in 1942 three days after earning his high school diploma from Wauwatosa High School in Wisconsin. His family was originally from New York & New Jersey. He knew no one from the South or West until his Army days. He became lifelong pals with men from completely different backgrounds. The ones I recall were from Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, California, and Iowa. Most were from working or middle class backgrounds. A few were wealthy. It didn't matter.

 

There were other differences that didn't matter, either. For example, Dad became great pals with a Jewish soldier from the Bronx named "Dersh" (short for Dershowitz). After the war ended, Dersh said, "If you get home ahead of me, and you visit your grandparents on Long Island, will you give my mother a call and say hello for me?" Dad, of course, being Dad, agreed. And that's how it worked out: Dad got home first and made the call. Dersh's mother was thrilled. She invited Dad to come up to the Bronx, and that's how Dad found himself the guest of honor at a family Shabbat dinner. So my point is that through the miliary and serving in the war, millions of Americans from various backgrounds got to know each other as individuals.

 

I should add that even before the war, when Dad was in basic training in Mississippi, he had a long, memorable conversation with an older Black farmer who gave Dad, who was hitch-hiking, a ride to a city. I can't remember where they were going, but it was a long ride in a slow farm truck on back roads, and they must have had quite a good time together because Dad still recalled it when he was in his nineties. ("It was swell!")

 

Now I'm not suggesting, heaven forbid, that we need another world war in order for Americans to get to know one another, but instead, perhaps it could be mandatory to serve a year or two in the Armed Forces (or some alternative) for all young men and women.

 

I often encounter young men and women in publishing in NYC who have no clue whatsoever about huge swaths of the United States of America. They do not know their own country. They only know what they know. They are far more progressive than most of the country and they don't "get" that at all. Perhaps if they were to serve in the Armed Forces or were thrown in together fighting fires in the West or helping with the massive flooding in St. Louis and Kentucky, they would see the humanity in the "other" America - and vice-versa as well.