America, home of the free because of the brave, lacks brave people. Memorial Day approaches and too many Americans cannot fathom believing in anything enough to risk their lives for that belief. Worse, they scorn the people who do believe. Americans, rich and coddled, have turned inward and worry about risking anything because they have too much to lose. So they play it safe and protective — but mostly they play.
Consider the evidence. The Army came out with a new ad that didn’t extol bravery and sacrifice and the ideals of America. Instead, it extolled self-idealization by way of personal journey to self-discovery through joining the Army. Even mentally unstable, sexually ambiguous pudding-heads will find a home there and will have their hands held on their quest for self-actualization. The message is clear: Join the Army — do it for you.
Why must the Army appeal to the ego of a man, a woman, or an “it” to join the military? Well, because the Army is having a tough time recruiting enough suitable candidates. As Dean Wormer says in Animal House, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” It might be better to update it to fat, stoned, and stupid, but the insight remains. The problem? America is now filled with fat, stoned, and stupid young people who have given little thought to life beyond the confines of their internet-dominated and insular experience. From American Military News:
Mission: Readiness, a non-partisan group consisting of nearly 800 retired U.S. admirals and generals, recently sent a letter to acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, calling on the Department of Defense to address the major issues preventing 71 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 from being eligible to serve.
“As you know, 71 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are currently ineligible for military service, primarily because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a history of crime or substance
abuse,” Mission: Readiness’ Dec. 17 letter reads. The letter was signed by retired U.S. Air Force Gen. William M. Fraser, III and retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. James M. Loy.
Then there’s America’s birth rate. It has dropped off dramatically. Why? Some of it is pure deception and delusion. Rebeccah L. Heinrichs has a must-read piece in the American Mind about the change in the American psyche. She writes,
As an increasingly typical 29-year-old woman told the New York Times, she’s putting off children because she’s “getting to live her life.” She’s “feeling a little bit selfish,” and “everybody in my friend group is saying, ‘When is the right time to let go of that selfishness?’ ” On Mother’s Day, the New York Times even chose to glamorize women who reject motherhood altogether, and feminist Jill Filipovic wrote that she would like to read more essays from women who regret having had children. Let there be no mistake about the cultural elite’s denigration of motherhood and children.
There is a cultural dogma that tells little girls they will achieve their greatest worth through autonomy, power, and how optimally they maneuver to monetize their talents. This dogma nurtures narcissism and rejects self-sacrifice as stupid and weak. The new dogma, which modern feminism has embraced, teaches young people to stamp out vulnerability and dependence, though vulnerability and dependence are immutable characteristics of our creative design and necessary for the sustainment and reproduction of human life.
The Census Bureau tells another part of the story (emphasis added):
A look at this new generation of young adults:
1 in 4 young people aged 25 to 34 living in their parents’ home (about 2.2 million) neither go to school nor work.
Most Americans believe educational and economic accomplishments are extremely important milestones of adulthood. In contrast, marriage and parenthood rank low: over half believe that marrying and having children are not an important part of becoming an adult.
Young people may delay marriage but most still eventually tie the knot. In the 1970s, 8 in 10 married by the time they turned 30. Today, not until the age of 45 have 8 in 10 people married.
The final cultural nail in the coffin of America: COVID. At least half of America sheltered in place for a virus that would prove less threatening to one’s life than the flu for those under the age of 18. The other half of America was forced to lock themselves in their homes. Cynical and lazy teachers refused to teach. And in places where teachers were in schools, hysterical parents kept children at home despite heaps of evidence that school attendance did not increase the health risks to the children or the family.
It’s important to understand not just that Americans willingly ceded authority over their own lives to the government over a relatively weak pandemic (by historical standards) but also why they did so. Why was a people, the home of the brave, so scared? Perhaps another cultural phenomenon is at play: the decline in religious affiliation and church attendance. As more Americans become secularized, the focus on the self rises. Death is not a new beginning but a finite end. A potentially mortal illness inspires not just rational concern but abject fear. It’s literally an existential crisis. With no worldview tempered by faith, smaller things create bigger fears.
In this fearful, self-protective, and self-aggrandizing world, where do notions of honor, duty, service, and sacrifice enter? No one likes to think of himself as a selfish scaredy-cat. That’s why many Americans have been proud of their mask-wearing and so eager to shame those who are mask-skeptical. It’s morality on the cheap. It is a mostly empty symbol of moral superiority.
How does one protect a noble self-view without masks and when one is so craven and small? The answer is to paint higher values such as honor, duty, service, and sacrifice as being the choice of the sucker. Only the easily duped and pathetic would sign up for the military or motherhood — both jobs that require personal discipline and a nobility of purpose, and where the payoffs are long-term. Both require sacrifice. Both involve risk. Both confer a benefit to a future generation. Both are other-focused.
Over 300,000 American soldiers died in battle and from other causes to free slaves during the Civil War. Over 400,000 American soldiers died in World War II to free the West from tyranny. Thousands of other Americans gave up their lives to fight communism in Vietnam and Korea. How can these deaths be honored if Americans no longer value this sort of sacrifice? How can Americans value this sacrifice if they’re not even taught it?
The focus in education and media is self, self, self. Preserving one’s own life supersedes any other consideration. This has led to a nation of agoraphobes, huddling fearfully at home, delaying adulthood, refusing to grow up and take a risk on the future or sacrifice any want for the benefit of society.
A nation cannot long survive if her citizens are unwilling to having babies, defend themselves, or even leave the house. Life is drained of meaning when the highest call is hanging out with friends, stoned.
Turning this around means turning many things around: encouraging service, extolling the benefits of motherhood, and, on days like Memorial Day, honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice and explaining why it was a noble thing to do. A belief in God, rather than limiting life, expands possibilities and encourages living for greater ideas than living only for oneself. It’s about love.
John 15:13 states, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” True fulfillment is being filled with enough love that one is willing to sacrifice himself for something bigger than himself. That requires, paradoxically, a willingness to overcome fear and be willing to take risks and fully live and, yes, face death in doing so. On Memorial Day, we are thankful for the men and women who loved country more than self and in so doing freed future generations to live. May we honor that sacrifice by fully living and pay it forward by being willing to do the same.