Last Monday was a maddening day. The swimming pool heater was not working right and when I wanted to get my nightly swimming exercise before bed, the water was a bit cool. Plus, the water heater was broken and my shower was barely tepid.
I lay in bed sulking and then turned on the TV. Ken Burns’s magnificent epic about American participation in World War II came on.
There were American children being starved in Japanese prison camps in the Philippines. American Marines getting blown to pieces by Japanese shells on Iwo Jima. American soldiers fighting and freezing at the Battle of the Bulge. American widows standing mournfully on their porches in Minnesota.
And I was complaining that my pool was not warm enough.
The thought just hit me like lightning. “Shut up,” I said to myself. “Just shut up with your complaining about the unimaginably lush life you get to live. Shut up with your trivial complaints. You’re not getting shot at by the Nazi SS. You’re not getting machine gunned on a beach with no place to hide. You’re not losing your father or son in a jungle far away.
“No, you live your sickeningly deluxe life thanks to those people who did that, and to their families — the military family is the marrow in the backbone of America. And they barely complained at all.”
I hate to say it, but I think a lot of us are like me. We just complain too darned much and are grateful too darned little. Whatever can we say to the men and women who gave their lives and their parents and children so we could live to complain?
We can be grateful to every one of them who ever served, ever wore a uniform, ever sent a loved one off to fight. And we can keep on with our bended knee gratitude to those fighting our wars right now, morning and night. And you know what? We can get some exercise doing it. We don’t have to swim. We can get on our knees and thank God or Heaven or the Universe or History or the American man and woman that we had these heroes to save us and the world. And then we can get up and look out at the blue sky and give thanks again that we have them right now. And that’s all the exercise we need.
A small added note. On the final night of The War, there is footage of the U.S. atom bomb and the narrator says the U.S. got the bomb first despite Hitler’s “feverish” efforts to get an atom bomb. This is totally mistaken. Germany actually had no major program at all for an atom bomb. The Fuhrer had told his weapons people that the notion that one could get more energy from splitting an atom than was originally present in the mass of matter was a fraud, “Jewish physics” that was just hocus-pocus and not worth pursuing. We can all make mistakes. Thank God Hitler made that one.