Today’s dwindling patriotism
Americans who were youngsters during World War II were able to witness the last time that the nation was completely embroiled in patriotism. There was a general awareness then that America was endangered, so citizens were willing to accept in good humor a number of inconveniences necessary for survival. In wartime, people were also more deferential to the directions of the commander-in-chief.
In today’s battle for survival against Covid-19, self-centered citizens refuse to receive a cost free inoculation that will secure their fellow Americans from a horrible disease as well as save their own lives. In World War II U.S. citizens had to endure tire and gasoline rationing that often forced people to walk or take public transportation while leaving their car in the garage. Other luxuries became almost exclusively unavailable as the U.S. production effort turned to military requirements.
People were also required to help finance the war with a 5% victory tax on their paychecks. Citizens with high incomes were also prevented from profiting from the war. An excess profits tax of 95% was levied on any income that was greater than 5% more than the level received in prior years.
Another procedure for financing the war was to sell war bonds to citizens. A $25 war bond cost $18.75 to buy, but would pay out $25 after 10 years. It is estimated that 85 million citizens bought $185.7 billion in war bonds by the end of the war. What is most astounding is that the bonds sold quickly even though the rate of return was less than the Wall Street rate for similar investments.
Of course not everyone was lifted to an enlightened state of multiracial euphoria by the spirit of patriotism. Just as the Harlem Hellfighters established the Black military competency in World War I, the Tuskegee Airmen known as the Red Tails established a reputation as effective fighter escorts of bombing missions. Black war heroes were not properly recognized and racial discrimination in the military was not ended by President Truman until the war was over.
The military draft ended in 1973 when the U.S. decided to have an all-volunteer military service. The nation then became defended by mercenaries. Citizens do not acknowledge this reality, but except for a relatively few members of upscale families who serve because of a tradition of patriotism, most of those in the military serve because of a lack of other opportunities.
Now Americans feel quite removed from the wars that we fight. There are reports about the U.S. winning or losing, but the most significant information is whether the military budget is too high or whether the U.S. has gained or lost strategic advantage. And there is not the concern for the welfare of the soldiers and marines who are on the battlefield.
This emotional remoteness from the battles we face can be very dangerous as the nature of war changes. In World War II we knew about bombs, guns and battleships. In the age of technology the nature of weaponry has become varied. Covid-19 is more deadly than a kamikaze attack. And it could also be from human or natural sources. Regardless of the deadly danger, many Americans refuse to behave in a way that will disempower this weapon.
A necessary aspect of true patriotism is the spirit of camaraderie among citizens. Although there were many incidents of racial oppression during World War II, the vision of America as promised by the Declaration of Independence induced Blacks to press on for the elusive justice and equality. However, the Jan. 6 insurrection on the nation’s Capitol demonstrates there are substantial elements of citizens who are willing to demolish the American Dream for democracy and substitute an autocracy.
With frayed patriotism, much is at risk!!