• Michael Ruscoe

A Memorial Day Civics Lesson, Some Thoughts on Freedom, and a Call to End Dumbassery

As we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, let's think about the small sacrifices we're asked to make today.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog rant postulating the notion that we may be too dumb as a nation to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Nothing I’ve seen in the ensuing two weeks has changed my mind. But as we observe one of the most unusual Memorial Days in our nation’s history—one that serves as the unofficial start of what will surely be one of the most unusual summers we’ve ever experienced—I’d like to elaborate on my original rant. (I’ll try not to be as rant-ish. But I’m not making any promises.)

  • Freedom isn’t free. I saw this emblazoned across the T-shirt of a Trump supporter at one of the quote-unquote-president’s rallies. This is one of the few things upon which Trump supporters and I agree wholeheartedly. Freedom most definitely is not free. It’s paid for by the blood of American servicemen and women who have laid down their lives for us—for you and me. They’ve paid the highest price a human being can pay so that their parents, their brothers and sisters, their friends and neighbors, and yes, even total strangers and generations yet to be born, can not only enjoy their freedom but also continue this great experiment that we call the United States of America. And that total price comes to a great deal of American blood spilled. This Memorial Day, we’re honoring more than 1.3 million American veterans who have died in our various wars, conflicts, and police actions to date. Nearly 1.5 million American veterans have been wounded as well.

  • They didn’t die JUST so that we can enjoy our freedoms. I’ve never served in uniform. But I’ve known, spoken to, listened to, and interviewed many who have. As I contemplate the debt that we owe them—a debt that can never truly be paid—I can’t help but remember the climax of Saving Private Ryan, in which Tom Hanks’s Captain Miller, dying on the battlefield, whispers his last words to the titular Private Ryan: “Earn this.” I can’t help but think that our freedoms aren’t ours merely to be enjoyed. They’re ours to be earned, to be earned and passed down to the next generation—and to be done so with sacrifices of our own when necessary. Were we able to speak to the hundreds of thousands who gave their lives for America, I imagine they would expect nothing less than that their countrymen and women of generations to come would be willing to make sacrifices, up to and including the ultimate sacrifice, to hand the baton off to future generations of Americans.

  • Combating great peril calls for great sacrifice. We’re at a time of tremendous peril here in the United States and around the world. As I write this, the coronavirus has killed nearly 95,000 Americans. (For context, that’s roughly a quarter the number of Union soldiers killed in the Civil War and nearly half the number of Confederate dead; nearly a quarter the number of Americans killed during all of World War II; more than twice as many as were killed in the Korean War; over 36,000 more than were killed in the Vietnam War; and more than were killed in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War combined.)

  • We're in trouble. Clearly, the pandemic in which we still find ourselves ranks among the greatest dangers this country has faced in its 244-year history. As our forbearers were before us, we are charged to make sacrifices that will ensure the freedom of our fellow citizens and to pass the baton to future generations of Americans, to whom we can say, “Earn this.”

  • We’re blowing it. Maybe it’s social media’s fault. Maybe in the years before Snaptweet and Linkedchat and Instaface, we were populated with the same number of similarly moronic dumbasses who thought that freedom was something that they could just roll out of bed and slip into like a ratty bathrobe and worn pair of slippers, and that they could just wander around in public and yell, “Screw you people, I’m free! ” Maybe there were just as many dumbasses who felt as if they had a right to scoop up ALL THE FREEDOM THEY WANTED and not give a rat’s ass about the fact that their neighbors and their country were under attack and dying by the tens of thousands. Maybe there were. But I don’t remember seeing them. At least, not the way I’ve seen the asshole who wouldn’t put on a mask at Costco. Or the total shithead who wouldn’t wear a mask at the grocery store. Or the absolute fucking toolbag who removed his mask while touring a ventilator factory because he didn’t want to be seen on camera wearing a mask.

  • What are they thinking? These people seem to think that freedom means doing whatever the hell they want to do, no matter how it might harm the people around them. They believe the best way to show off their freedom is to think about themselves first and to not give a shit about the rest of the country, as if telling vast crowds of people, literally, to drop dead is a brave, individualistic act or some glorious display of patriotism. They feel that because they’re “free,” they aren’t responsible for their countrymen when the nation is under attack from a deadly enemy, as it was during World War II, or as it is right now.

  • And you know what? They’re right. They aren’t. As Americans, they have the right to feel that way. They have the right to turn their back on their country in its hour of greatest need. But without question, these people are the lowest forms of humanity and terrible examples of American citizens. Certainly, in the eyes of Captain Miller (and, I would guess, most of the war dead we honor today), these make-believe patriots haven’t earned the freedoms they abuse so cavalierly—freedoms paid for by the blood for our forbearers, the very soldiers we honor today. Frankly, it turns my stomach to see these people pretend to honor and respect the military the way they commonly do. If they truly respected the sacrifices the military has made and continues to make, they might be more willing to make some small sacrifices of their own for the good of their country, the way the military always has done. (Fortunately, all three of the dumbasses listed above have been widely mocked, ridiculed, and disavowed by the majority of people on social media. So maybe there’s some hope for us as a country yet.)

  • Wearing a piece of cloth over your face and waiting a little longer to get a haircut isn’t that great of a sacrifice, people. I don’t think this needs much elaboration. Wear your fucking masks. Stay socially distant, and wash your goddamned hands. If you can’t bring yourself to wear a mask, make the sacrifice of not going to the public places where everyone else is wearing their masks. There are other ways for you to shop for your Twinkies and Budweiser. Again, not that great of a sacrifice. You’re not exactly being called upon to storm the beach at Anzio.

  • We don’t have to agree with each other to be good neighbors. We don’t even have to like each other. We just have to look out for each other. I can hate my neighbor’s guts for any number of reasons. Maybe his lawn looks like crap. Maybe we don’t see eye to eye politically. Maybe he roots for a baseball team I hate. But if I see someone breaking into his house while he’s on vacation, I’m calling the cops. Why? Because it’s good for him, it’s good for me, and it’s good for the neighborhood. It makes for a better community, and in turn, a better nation.

I know—at least I hope and pray—most of you feel the same way about that kind of responsibility we have to look out for everyone, as well as ourselves. It’s what more than a million American servicemen and women died for. It’s what we owe future generations of Americans. It’s the best way to be worthy of the freedoms we’ve been given as a nation. On Memorial Day, as we think about all the blood that’s been spilled on our behalf, let’s truly be good Americans. Let’s be willing to sacrifice and look out for each another and for future generations. Let’s do our best to earn this.


Photo copyright Dreamworks SKG/Paramount Pictures

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