Richard Weaver, a Southern writer, once said in describing the modern mind-set that people "have lost a sense of the difficulty of things."
What he meant was that people seem unaware of how much labor and self-sacrifice were required of those who went before us to bring us to this point where, as he says, some people "begin to think that luxuries, though unearned, are rightfully theirs."
I think he is only partially right. In defense of the modern mind, how do you get people to realize the toil and self-sacrifice that went before them? Certainly you cannot do it with our superficial, politically correct approach to history.
The best learning comes from the family. My parents had experienced very hard times, and all the family stories were centered in these hard times. They were reflected in my parents, in their outlook on life, in their modest expectations and in their hard work.
But, thanks to their sacrifice, by the time I started to grow my own family, I had no tales of hardship to share. My life, though modest in material terms, had been pretty darn good and easy, and I found that I was unwilling to be as tough and severe with my own children as my father had been with me. It seemed to me that since I had some money, there was no need to deny my children anything I could afford, which admittedly was sometimes not that much. But unlike my father, I was never haunted by the memory of poverty that meant no shoes to wear and no food to eat. You can't fake that.
So there you are. It is unrealistic to expect people who have material means to deny their children out of principle. You can't simulate poverty. Nothing is gained by practicing suffering. I used to argue with the Army all the time that I could suffer quite competently the first time the necessity arose. I didn't need to practice being cold and wet, for example.
Another point to keep in mind, while we consider ourselves spoiled, is that nobody ever worked like a dog and sacrificed just for the principle of it. People did so because they had no choice. And all the time they were working hard and sacrificing, their goal was to get to the point where they wouldn't have to do that, or, at the least, where their children would not have to endure the same hardships.
I think people adapt to the environment in which they are born. While it's fashionable among some geezers to damn the present generation as having gone soft, I don't believe it. I think today's kids would work just as hard, make just as many sacrifices, as previous generations — if they had to. Necessity dictates.
Should there ever be an all-out war, or should the economy collapse completely, I believe people would find that today's young people can be as tough as any other generation. They would then do what they had to do to survive.
You can see this every time there is a disaster. When the necessity arises, Americans of all ages step up to the plate and do what they have to do. Or look at American sports. I just finished watching the Little League World Series. Those 11-, 12- and a few 13-year-old kids play the caliber of baseball that is only achieved with very hard work. You can say American kids are growing soft, but they are also growing bigger.
Look at the American kids in Iraq. It's true that there aren't many from Harvard and Yale. But the ones who are there are holding their own in about the toughest neighborhoods on the planet under the most miserable conditions.
The United States might be fouled up, but it's not the fault of the youngest generations. It's our fault. We're the ones who put up with sleazy politicians and fall for every sales pitch Madison Avenue can dream up. We're the generations that made greed a national goal. As for the kids, if fate starts throwing them curveballs, they'll hit them.
September 6, 2004
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.