There was once a time in America, before the days of suburban sprawl and the shopping mall, when one could walk down a sidewalk packed with homes and in virtually each window see a flag. Though red, white and blue, it wasn't an American flag. It was the small banner placed in the windows of Blue Star Families, who had a member serving overseas in World War II. Some banners had one star. Others two or more.
It wouldn't take long until you came upon a home that had a Gold Star banner. A son had been lost. It was that kid who, not long ago, played stickball in the street. He died on a bloody battlefield on some distant shore or entombed in the belly of ship that now lay at the bottom of the Pacific.
House-by-house and block-by-block, that small banner was an ever-present reminder that as communities and as a nation, we were in the middle of a bitter fight — and there were costs. More than 400,000 Americans died in World War II. A decade later the banners would hang again when young men were called off to Korea. Not long after, still more would be called to Vietnam. Those two conflicts would claim another 100,000 American lives.
Three successive generations of Americans now have not experienced national unity on such a scale, nor a singular hardship of such staggering proportions. Three generations of Americans have no concept of looking at the street on which they live and to a person knowing that war had come home.
Some would say that lack of perspective has made Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z Americans soft, entitled, spoiled and whiny. Those internet generations are perhaps too accustomed to creature comforts, technological conveniences and consumer culture. We live in a world of heated steering wheels, Bespoke toothpicks, 24-pack two-ply toilet paper and on-demand everything.
Certainly, those generations have witnessed terrorism on our shores, served in Iraq and Afghanistan and dealt with the Great Recession. But there is an issue of scale with coronavirus that is unique for our time in history.
Coronavirus is giving us a chance to again unite in national fight, to sacrifice for the greater good, to go without to support a nationwide effort, and know the pain and death that comes with war.
Social distancing isn't going off to war, of course. War is hell. It's blood and muck and gut-wrenching emotion pulsating through your veins in a struggle to survive.
It's separation from family and creature comforts. It's living with uncertainty and loss. At home, it's waiting for an unwanted knock at the door.
But our national coronavirus experience does share some of those characteristics.
As the death toll from coronavirus mounts in the coming weeks, it will give many Americans who before had no frame of reference, a sense of what it was like during those times from our history books when struggle was a commonplace part of American life.
Should the numbers reach the projected 100,000 mark or greater, virtually every community will be impacted. The loss may not be someone you knew well, but you'll likely know someone who lost a relative or friend. Nearly every community in every corner of the country is already making sacrifices to help save lives. We will carry this collective experience with us for the rest of our lives.
Those who haven't experienced this kind of struggle and tragedy should see it as an opportunity to connect with one's sense of duty. Those who have should use it as a chance to provide an example for their children and grandchildren.
It's a time to slow down, learn more patience and consider broader perspectives. It's a time to think about what really matters in life. It's a time to work on caring for others and talking to God.
Americans need to stop complaining. They need to stop allowing themselves to be divided by a ravenous press, social media mobs and serial Monday morning quarterbacks that plague and demoralize our society.
We need to be more thankful. We need to take this month and realize that not everything is politics and not every conversation needs to be about Trump.
Gen Zers, in particular, need to get their hands dirty. Plant something and watch it grow. Get your nose out of the computer and smartphone. Appreciate the simple pleasures and joys of creation, relationships and living. Embrace volunteerism.
Overall, our nation needs to gain strength and toughness from this collective experience. We need to realize that the common leftist narrative that defines America by its failings more than by its exceptionalism is pure foolishness.
There will be no banners hung in windows for this war. Only our flag and the collective strength of a nation that will fly higher despite the scars of loss. Our prayer is for minimal loss of life to be sure, but it should also be for a harkening back to a time when we were prouder, tougher and closer as a people.
Tom Basile has been part of the American political landscape from Presidential campaigns to local politics. He served in the Bush Administration from 2001-2004, as Executive Director of the NYS Republican Party and has held a range of senior-level communications roles in and out of government. His new book Let it Sink In: The Decade of Obama and Trump provides a look back at the 2010s to prepare us to defend freedom in the 2020s. His critically-acclaimed book, Tough Sell: Fighting the Media War in Iraq (Foreword by Amb. John R. Bolton), chronicles his time in Baghdad fighting media bias and driving coverage of the Iraq war. In 2011, he was featured in Time Magazine's Person of the Year spread about political activism around the world. Basile is an adjunct professor at Fordham University and runs a New York-based strategic communications firm. He is a member of the New York Bar and sits on a number of academic and philanthropic advisory boards. Learn more about him at TomBasile.com or follow him on Twitter @Tom_Basile. To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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