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Thoughts on Sacrifice
By Jack Mallory
Been mulling this over for awhile.
Our generation has seen interesting and significant changes in the concept of public or national service. From our parents' era to the present, the way Americans have valued sacrifices for the public good—from giving one's life for others to wearing a piece of fabric for others—has changed radically.
For generations, indeed from the Civil War until the Vietnam War, it was widely accepted that citizens might be expected to alter, risk, or even lose their lives for the betterment of others and the nation as a whole. It was commonly accepted that some might be asked or forced, to leave homes and families, to live under the strictures of military life, to miss football games and weddings and Thanksgiving dinners, to undergo mental and physical rigors, perhaps to kill and perhaps to die because their neighbors, through their government, asked them to make that sacrifice.
This is not to say that everyone supported these voluntary or involuntary sacrifices, or believed that every instance was worth what was given up. It is not to say that everyone making the sacrifices did so eagerly or even willingly. But the national will, the public policies endorsed through democratic governance, supported them for 100 years or so. Only the purposeless abuse of those who served during the Vietnam War, and perhaps the guilt of those who encouraged that war and that abuse, put an end to the forced form of sacrifice called the draft.
Now we see a nation in which, for many, the minor or moderate impositions that might benefit others are excessive. Once, some were asked to give up the right to make decisions about what to wear, what, where and when to eat, when they could see their loved ones, when and how to die. They more or less willingly agreed.
Now, we are asked to make some changes about whether to go to dinner, to give up going to that football game, to consider skipping a holiday dinner with the family, to wear a piece of fabric on our face. All to guard the health and lives of those we love and others. For many, these sacrifices are too great; the response varies from whining about being asked (not forced) to skip that dinner to showing up at the State House armed with semi-automatic weapons to protect rights to an unencumbered face.
Issues of individual freedom are and must be paramount in a democracy. Government infringements of individual rights are an inherent threat to a free people. What the government can ask of citizens in terms of sacrifice and the reasons for such sacrifice are worthy of lengthy debate.
But in any society, the value of individual sacrifice for social good must also be considered. In any community some may need to voluntarily subject themselves to discomfort, disturbance of their lifestyles, even risk their lives, so that the community as a whole may be safe and prosper. Again, the circumstances generating that need and the sacrifices necessary may be debated. But that sometimes we might choose to undergo discomfort, disturbance, or risk for the greater good is something that society and the individuals that comprise it should perhaps address anew.
Jack Mallory is a long-time VVAW member. He served in Vietnam 69-70 and joined VVAW in 1970. He's also an archaeologist, an educator, and a dad. Like Superman, fighting for truth, justice, and his own version of the American way. He won't claim to be winning, but WTF else can he do?