The tweet was simple enough: “Must read.” And the link attached to it was to a post written by Rebekah Sanderlin for the “At War” blog of the New York Times. Her powerful piece was as advertised. Sanderlin recounts her harrowing life as an Army wife and then ponders the palpable disconnect in the cheers of “We got him” of the young 5/1 celebrants at the White House and Ground Zero in Manhattan.
But watching the spontaneous celebrations outside the White House and ground zero, we were struck by the paradox inherent in the cheering crowds. People, mostly in their 20s and 30s — the same age as our friends who have died and been forever injured — were cheering, “We got him!”
For nearly a decade of war, it hasn’t felt much like “we.” During this, the longest war in our nation’s history, a war fought by less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of the country has seemed mostly to ignore those of us in the military community, tuning in only for our scandals or deaths. And so “we,” in the context of victory, most accurately applies only to the very small number of men and women who have given more than any of us had a right to ask.
Alexandra Petri put the cheering Sanderlin wrote about in perspective, writing on her blog, “Osama is our Voldemort. He’s our Emperor Palpatine. He is the Face of Evil, a mythical holdover from when we were too young to realize that evil has no face.” She continued:
So for people my age, the idea that you would greet the news of Osama’s demise with anything short of unmitigated exhilaration is ludicrous. Call up the Ewoks and get the bonfires started. . . . This capture puts a cap on half our lives. We beat this level. It has long been our generational inclination to see life as a video game. Challenges to be overcome. Negotiations to be mastered. . . . Each level is controlled by a boss, a malignant figure who must be defeated for you to progress. And Osama was one such figure.
Osama as Voldemort. Seeing life as a video game. This puts distance between Petri’s generation and the very real war being waged to ensure that terror isn’t visited on U.S. soil again. And it feeds into Sanderlin’s point about Americans in general. One that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other have been making for a while. “[F]or most Americans the wars remain an abstraction,” Gates said in a speech at Duke University last year. “A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally.”
This nation’s wars are being fought — and the consequences being suffered — by a very thin slice of the population. While the rest of us are oblivious to what’s happening a world away, families such as Sanderlin’s can’t escape it. Not for a minute. Now that “we” are celebrating their collective success at bringing bin Laden to justice, let’s endeavor not to forget them, their sacrifices or the fact that said sacrifices will continue long after the last servicemember returns home.