I have a sticker on the tailgate of my pickup; it has the smiling face of a Marine and a date, 10/19/05 — the last day of the Marine's 21 years. The image of the young man — Norman Anderson III — had begun to fade. I recently asked Norman's mother, Robyn, who lives down the road, for a new sticker.
We have heard it said that America is divided between givers and takers. I agree, but the point of separation that I have in mind has nothing to do with taxpaying. It is rather the separation between those who have served and those who have been served. The spouse or parents of those who have given their all receive the folded flag of a "grateful nation"; it is not evident to me that our nation is grateful. Professions of national gratitude ring hollow when issued by a citizenry immersed in sectarian rancor.
After 13 years of war, new conflicts loom. We are ill-prepared to respond effectively for we have become a divided, self-serving, dysfunctional polity.
Remember with me the days that followed the Sept. 11 massacres. Do you recall the union of our citizens? Do you remember the gentler manner and the greater trust? Do you recollect the pride you felt in your fellow countrymen who offered their lives to rescue strangers in the towers? Empathy, so abundant then, is now in short supply.
The invasion of Iraq split us in two. We began to question one another's patriotism. But the side of the debate one chose was not a litmus test of patriotism.
Those arguing against sending our young citizen soldiers to Iraq were not less patriotic than those who acquiesced. So who is to blame for our disunion? Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama? House Speaker John Boehner? Rep. Nancy Pelosi? Pick your favorite villain as you may, but the one responsible is dead; his name was Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden had his way with us; he murdered our citizens, and when we sought justice he played us like a demonic puppeteer. He turned us against ourselves. He made us less civil, more hateful, more partisan and thus less patriotic.
We have instructed Iraqis and Afghans these 13 years to adopt our ways as we have increasingly adopted theirs. In our effort to make them more like us, we have succeeded in becoming more like them. We understand that sectarianism creates havoc there but seem not to grasp that it is on the rise here.
Bin Laden was the poster boy of bigotry. ISIS, the latest group that practices rationalized murder, is an al-Qaida knockoff. Religion is just the cover these types use to justify the murder of any who dare refuse their narrow "truth." The hardening of our political parties is dividing us into our own "truth" groups. Bin Laden would approve.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Norman Anderson. Robyn has told me that he was a lover of life — a lover of all sorts of people. At his funeral, his wife told of how he had spoken of his desire to return to his comrades-in-arms, because, as much as she needed him, they needed him more. Perhaps he knew more than we. He received the Bronze Star for Valor for saving the lives of the members of his platoon. He saved them by stopping a suicide bomber from hurling his bomb laden car at them — stopped it with bullets from his rifle and finally with his body as he stepped forward to meet the thrust.
Lance Cpl. Norman Anderson III gave his life to his nation even before he entered Iraq; he gave it when he enlisted in response to 9/11. He offered it so that he might assist in obtaining justice for his fellow citizens. He offered it not to a section or party; not to an ethnic group or religious denomination; he offered it to his fellow countrymen. Let us show ourselves worthy of his sacrifice. Let us be civil.