As much as I would LOVE to discuss LeBron James' cramps after Game 1 of the NBA Finals last night, I will leave that to the professionals today. (Start here.)
I have never served in the military. I'd like to think that I would have been able to do my job, to protect the men around me, to lead when needed, and to sacrifice when necessary. Luckily, I will never have to judge myself on those terms. With any luck, my daughters will not have to, either.
70 years ago as I write, men and boys, so many of whom were the same age as my own College Kid, were crossing the English Channel to invade Normandy. Paratroopers had already parachuted in and engaged German troops, preparing for the invasion. As we watch our news of shootings in Seattle and in Canada, even as we recover from the killings in Isla Vista, and we debate our exchange of prisoners for our prisoner of war, it is hard to imagine the scope of what took place on June 6, 1944, what had come before it and what had yet to occur, and what it would be like to have to witness it today.
We like to compartmentalize things into neat packages and catch phrases. We feel a need to try to acknowledge the sacrifices and experiences of those who have seen combat by trivializing the things that occur in our own lives. As if it honors the victims and survivors of human conflict and tragedy by saying that the hockey game we are watching "is only a game," or that the trials and tribulations in our own lives "pale in comparison." We, and our media outlets, fall over ourselves "thanking" our troops for protecting our freedom, yet these are the same freedoms that we cite when our citizens purchase guns and kill college students.
We need a different perspective. I have always been struck by the phrase "War is Hell." Hell, if you believe in it, is where people are punished for their wrongdoings. Hell is a deserved state based on a life of sin. Wars are fought by men and women, who either volunteer or are forced to kill or be killed, in the name of a cause. The thousands of men who lost their lives 70 years ago today were not on those beaches in Normandy because they were sent to Hell. They did not do anything to deserve to be there. The men who survived seem to desperately try only to speak of their brothers-in-arms, and the things other people did, rather than expound on their own experiences. They don't consider themselves heroes, just men who were trained to act decisively no matter how horrific the circumstances. To compare War to Hell is to trivialize War.
Today, there will likely be scores of media outlets and politicians spouting cliches of gratitude to current soldiers, and reporting individual stories of heroism on D-day in attempts to personalize unimaginable horror. We'd be better off quietly acknowledging the organized and rationalized waste of thousands of young lives on June 6, 1944, telling the survivors how grateful we are for their continued company, and trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with us as a human community that 70 years later we still have people killing each other.