Honoring Lakewood's Veterans... The Smell Was Missing...

From head to toe...Where this helmet and those boots went, victory followed for the free world.

(Photo by Gary Rice)

As our nation continues to deal with more violence, both around the world, and in our land, I thought that it might be good to look at the potential effects of the permeation of war and violence in our culture with young people.
 
It seems like everywhere you look nowadays, kids have some sort of hand-held, combat-related video game in their hands. Every year, those games become more and more realistic, to the point that it might well become difficult for some kids to distinguish real life from the parallel universes offered by those games. For video game lovers, it's a great time to be alive.

Unfortunately, all too often with those games, it is also a great time to (at least virtually) die.

I know of no video game that allows the player to compromise. I've been to the video game store, and I've asked that question. The message seems clear with many of those games: Either kill, or be killed. As we well know, all too often, those types of scenarios have sadly also played out across our country in real-time real-life bloodbaths, where harsh realities replace those virtual on-screen images. For most people, those video games are probably simply fun entertainment, but for a few? That would be the question, and frankly, there's no easy answer either. The Supreme Court recently struck down a California law that would have restricted some video games from minors as being a free speech issue. After all, say some, if even old fairy tales have violence, where then can one draw the line as to what children should be exposed to? Quite frankly, the question as to whether a link between violent video games and youth violence exists continues to be a controversial and highly emotional one. To be fair, game advocates are quick to point out that overall youth violence appears to be reducing, while the popularity of video games continues to rise.

Let's face it though, with the computerized animations and special effects that we now have with movies, television shows, and video games, virtually nothing is left to the imagination anymore. The primal urges of some young people to vicariously hunt and kill can easily be satisfied by plunking down a few dollars for a new video game, or for that matter, by simply going to the movies. It does not take a stretch of my imagination to wonder whether some of the virtual experiences that today's youth have had could well translate into some of the very real acts of violence that we see in the news? As pressure in school for ever greater academic success increases exponentially across our country, an almost to-be-expected sad and dangerous by-product of that pressure to succeed might well be the increased anger and alienation of at least a few potentially violent and disaffected youth who have learned well how to hone their future violent actions with some movies and games; but again, the experts continue to disagree about all of this.

A few years ago, I had a wonderful elderly friend who happened to be a Bronze Star decorated WWII veteran. He wanted to go see the movie "Saving Private Ryan" at the Detroit Theater. You may recall that the first part of that movie had a very graphic depiction of the Normandy landing on D-Day, June 6, 1944. I was quite concerned that my dear friend would be bothered by what he saw in those scenes, but he just sat there in that theater, intently watching without a word. When the movie was over, I could not help asking him whether the movie accurately depicted what he had gone through. His response was short, and to the point: "The smell was missing."

War and violence can be exceedingly difficult topics to write about. It's relatively easy to write about war and violence from a historical standpoint. It is far less easy to write about the causes of wars and violence; particularly with reference to the current events transpiring these days.

My WWII veteran father and I have supported America's veterans 100%, and we've even written a full band march (The American Veterans Last Salute March) honoring their service. At the same time, many of those same veterans have told us that they are very opposed to American involvement in future wars. Numerous articles these days point to an alarming number of suicides and mental health issues that both current and former members of our armed forces are experiencing as they attempt to cope, either with the trials of war, or with their transitioning back into civilian life. Dad tells me that even during WWII, he and his Army band had to play hospitals where trumpets had to be muted and bass drums were forbidden, due to their effect on soldiers having mental conditions related to stress and/or combat situations.

Tangentially, we should also probably reflect on all these school and community multiple shootings. Every year they seem to pop up around our country, with the blood of our citizens re-appearing with the same regularity as the red poppies of Flanders bloom among the graves of the fallen from the First World War. These days, curiously, school and community multiple shootings seem to occur more and more, even as overall violent crime appears to be on the decline.

There is of course, much good that goes on in our schools and communities every day. On the whole, teachers, students, administrators, and community leaders do great work. At the same time, unceasing efforts must continue in order to identify and address school and community safety issues, as well as the conditions and psychology of violence, bullying, and harassment that exist in today's culture.

We might also want to think about the "no-prisoners taken" confrontations transpiring in the political arena, as well as the Federal Government's recent shut-down. More and more, people seem to be less willing to talk things over, or compromise. Shouting seems to have trumped civil discourse in the public arena, and of course, the world has seen this sort of thing happen before. The 1930's were a time of political radicalism as well. Often over the course of history, tough economic times have brought out the rabble-rousers, and it would seem that sort of thing is happening all over again.

If there would be a single modest thought that I could offer that might help to remedy some of this, it would be that we need to continue to teach and practice the arts of toleration and compromise for the differences that exist in our world. Unfortunately, the voices of reason appear to be few and far between nowadays. Even toleration itself can be a controversial idea. The great American writer, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote a serious commentary entitled "War Prayer" that he ordered to be published only after his death, addressing the topic of war. These days, as back in Clemens' times, the voices of toleration and compromise are being silenced again and again, as America once again appears to be on the precipice of still more war. There's no doubt in my mind that, while we certainly need a strong military in today's world, there is also a significant part of the American economy that is geared towards war-making. We need to try and keep all things in balance, I suppose. We treasure freedom, but personal, school, and community responsibilities also need to be treasured, as well.

The smell might (unfortunately?) be missing from our gaming, television and movie screens, but make no mistake; on a real battlefield, that smell will remain...long after the guns have been silenced.

For our honored veterans, (many of them knowing and remembering that smell all too well) thank you for your service, and welcome home!

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Volume 9, Issue 23, Posted 2:01 PM, 11.12.2013