Both of these events mark the end of wars that were vastly more destructive and costly, both in money and in human lives, than the one in which I find myself now. My grandfather was a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress in Europe during World War II, a part of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. During the years 1942-1945, the Eighth Air Force alone suffered over 47,000 casualties, with more than 26,000 deaths. To put this in perspective, that represents the death of every soldier in the 256th BCT six times over – and the 8th AF was only one part of the gargantuan war effort.
Our efforts seem to pale in comparison to those of what has been termed the “greatest generation;” by and large we know little of the hardship that soldiers faced sixty or even thirty years ago. In saying this, I don’t mean to denigrate in any way the sacrifices and struggles of those soldiers and Marines who have seen the worst of things here; it’s an issue of scale.
As I’ve mentioned before, my Iraq deployment thus far hasn’t quite lived up to my epic expectations. As a Signal soldier parked (relatively) safely within Camp Liberty, I hardly consider my actions to be “heroic.” But while discussing this very topic with the Pontiff, I had what I consider to be a minor revelation.
Note that I’m not a sociologist or historian, and as such my conclusions could be completely wrong. However, it’s reasonable to assume that the average 18-25 year old male during World War II probably led a more arduous life than their counterparts 60 years later; many more probably lived on farms, maybe had less money; had no internet, no cable TV, no 24-hour news channels; had no power steering, no robot lawn mowers. From this generation sprang the soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen of World War II. By comparison, “kids these days” are media-saturated weed-smoking couch potatoes (if I had to provide a one-sentence summary). And before you accuse me of fantastic hyperbole, I include myself in that definition (weed smoking excluded), though it sounds terribly curmudgeon-ly.
So, while it’s true that our sacrifices seem minimal in comparison to those made over half a century ago, maybe when adjusted for “social inflation” they are more proportionate. Science, technology, health care, military strategy, and social norms have all changed vastly in the last sixty years, so much so that a war like WWII today would be an anacrhonism as much as the Ford GP, making Iraq our war – a media war, a network war, a war of technology and ideas.