Leavitt: What was it all for?
Like most men of a certain age, my dad was drafted into the army in 1943. Two of his brothers were already serving: one in the Navy and one in the Army. He was eventually deployed to Europe, landing in France shortly after D-Day, just in time to be sent to a staging area in Belgium, where his company was a part of the Allied force that would go on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, a seminal campaign that helped turn the tide of the war and in which nearly 90,000 American soldiers were killed, captured or missing in action.
This came to mind with the recent passing of Kansas Sen. Bob Dole who, at 98, was one of the few remaining U.S. veterans of WWII, a horrifying conflict that saw the loss of over 400,00 Americans, not to mention the tens of millions of lives lost throughout Europe and the Pacific of soldiers and civilians alike. My dad and Dole would not have had much in common politically, but they both shared an immutable love for their country and understood the imminent threat we were facing.
I thought about the selfless sacrifices and contributions made by the entire country as part of the war effort to give our troops a better chance to succeed. They endured the rationing of basic necessities like gasoline, heating oil, coffee, sugar … even toothpaste. People bought war bonds, grew their own vegetables in Victory Gardens and stepped in to work the factories. And, of course, the ultimate sacrifice of losing husbands and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. People were united for the common good of their families, their neighbors, the country and the entire world.
I also thought about how horrified and disgusted those who fought and died, in this struggle against fascism and authoritarianism, would be by the disgraceful conduct and the willful ignorance of the former president and of many our current legislators.
Juxtapose all that history with our country’s behavior today as we fight another war. This time against a virus that has taken over 750,000 lives here and more than five million globally. Could we be any more divided?
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Of course, these days, we take our cues from our politicians who saw in the pandemic an opportunity to grab power by driving a wedge to cleave our country in two. At a time when we needed leaders to step up and unite us, we’ve gotten only misinformation, conspiracies, demagoguery of science and a zero-sum approach that pitted us against each other and, likely, led to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of people — husbands and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.
And now, we are reaping what Trump hath sown. Even out of office, he and his amoral minions continue to stoke the fires of distrust and hatred, demonizing any and all that disagree. Dedicated people who are only trying to save lives are the targets of their venomous attacks.
This goes so far beyond policy differences, turning what could have been a defining moment to unite the country in a common purpose, into a major catalyst — one of many — in their ultimate effort to undermine our democracy. The very democracy for which an entire generation fought and sacrificed is now in danger of becoming eerily similar to the authoritarian powers against which they defended us.
Compared to the country’s collective sacrifice during the war, the inconvenience of wearing a mask and taking a vaccine that will save lives, seems so simple. It could’ve been.
But for the ambitions of a few, the die is cast. We are irreparably and irretrievably divided. If America had behaved then as it does now, we’d all be speaking two very different languages.
It begs the question: What was it all for?
Howard Leavitt lives in Avon with his wife, his hunting and fishing buddy, Daisy, and Shaman, a very talkative cat. He‘s had his own marketing and advertising agency for the past 25 years.