Andrew has written a great post on locating our particular historical moment in the constellation of the culture wars. As he knows, I am interested in how the narrative of the culture wars relates to other ways to organize historical narratives, such as how real wars shape the same period defined by the culture wars.
Recently the PEW Research Center published an intriguing poll about post-9/11 veterans, their views on the nation and the nation’s view of them. The authors entitled the article in which they presented this data, “War and Sacrifice in Post-9/11 Era.” There are some useful insights to glean from the data, but perhaps the upshot is this: vets and most Americans are proud of the service those in uniform have devoted and continue to devote to the nation; but many vets and even more Americans are very ambivalent about the wars the nation asked them to fight.
What I found most interesting about this general view was where vets and Americans lay blame for all the hardships and tragedies caused by wars that they seem to agree were not really worthy of such sacrifices. Vets and most non-military Americans polled pointed to the individual soldiers themselves. The individual is responsible for making a choice that brought he or she into wars without purpose. But at the same time, the fact that people in the military made sacrifices for wars not worthy of such sacrifice generated a great deal of admiration. The individual carries the nation while the nation forsakes the individual.
Even though the culture wars aren’t about people killing each other to protect their property or God, the rhetoric of the culture wars better exposes genuine conflicts than how we choose to speak about people actually killing each other over their property and their God.
Andrew’s post made me think yet again about how a parallel narrative of war-speak offers a way for Americans to imagine being united beneath a banner of sacrifice and devotion to the nation, while just close by, on another track, Americans battle over differences that polarize them to a point that calls into serious question why any ideal of unity would be worthy of grave sacrifice. It’s a curious moment.