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Social Issues: Culture

What Did You Do In The War?

"What did you do in the war, Grandpa?" a hypothetical child asks after seeing a TV special. Heroically portrayed on the screen was the dogged courage of ordinary people, contributing to pivotal events, and indeed the whole outcome of World War II.

"Well, honey," he replies, "I discovered very quickly that if I stuck my head up, somebody was sure to shoot at me. So I found a nice safe place and stayed there quietly until it was all over."

Nowadays, it would get complicated to honestly critique that sort of response. After all, if he had done differently, Grandpa and Grandchild might both be missing from the scene.

Still, we continue to use the standard of heroism to measure performance, of others more than ourselves. This is true even though blind patriotism and unquestioned duty are now distinctly out of style in America.

Current analysis would ask not so much if the war were just, but whether it concerned "ME." The self absorbed generation of the 60's approached Viet Nam this way.

The concern was not just if evil were being committed against innocent people by the other side. It was not really completely about whether or not this were a suitable place to draw the line.

Instead, the ultimate underlying question usually was, "Do I want to risk my own personal skin for this cause?" And, of course, many said, "No." They were also in no way shy about breaking step with much of the rest of the country, including its leadership, in doing so.

For the "highly evolved" morality of the present age, it is hard to distinguish between an Oskar Schindler, who risked life and fortune to save 1100 potential victims of Hitler's diabolical plots, and a US deserter who decided to stop fighting against the same Hitler, for personal safety. Both went against the official policy of their nation on a personal decision.

If there is any desire to judge such situations, what is obviously needed is a higher standard against which personal decisions can be measured. This is precisely what our present society has lost.

Think about it. Why would anyone rationally decide to voluntarily risk death if there were alternatives? How much more practical it would be to find people with suicidal tendencies, thrill seeking behavior or an unrealistic concept of their own invulnerability, and hand the dangerous duty to them.

It is my observation that many Americans today, on detailed examination, could find no cause anywhere for which they would be willing to give their lives. And from their point of view, it makes complete sense to think that way.They believe that our present life is all there is. They see no higher responsibility and no future existence. In such a case, reaching present personal goals is the only really meaningful purpose for each individual. Other people really only matter as they affect "ME."

So it is completely logical and consistent that such an atheist/materialist be basically selfish. Of course, indirect self interest may stimulate giving to charities in order to make society a safer place for others if it also helps "ME.".

But to really sacrifice or take an significant risk would be foolish under that scenario. The only question, then, is why do people continue to admire such foolish behavior in others? Yes, the bravery of "our boys" (and "girls") assured that we would not have to live with, much less under, Adolph Hitler. But, in the process, they gave up their own right to live at all!

Yet, to one who understands accountability to a Sovereign God and who sees this life as a brief preparation for the eternity to come, it is completely different. As martyr Nate Saint said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

"Good," says the cynic, "Now we have another class of soldiers, the gullible who believe the ruse of a Holy War. Then we, the enlightened, who already have a life, can continue the party, far from danger."

Yet, the inconsistent heart of even the most hardened materialist skips a beat now and then. The slaughter in Bosnia or Rwanda makes them want to "do something." Beyond reason, they may even be willing to take the risk themselves. It feels wrong to conclude that "this does not concern me."

And a Mother Theresa, who cares for those who have no hope, and does it without insisting on supporting data regarding quality of life or cost effectiveness, still evokes respect. Why?

I think there remains, even in the modern American psyche, a remnant of intuitive understanding that we are accountable to Someone who cannot be deceived, and that doing right, even at personal cost, is ultimately worth it all. This is true, of course, only if there is indeed a higher standard and there is also a final judgment.

It is most incredible to me, however, that even those of us who know these facts to be reliable, so often fail to live by them. We shy away from our Commander in Chief's orders, because obeying them would draw the enemy's attention to us.

But are we really prepared to defend that behavior to our Lord, who knows the thoughts and intents of the heart? The tears we bitterly shed on that day will be wiped away, but need not have been there at all. Instead, how much more glorious to arrive in His presence, beat up and bloodied, but obedient, and hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Ross S. Olson MD (rev 7/15/94)

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