I suppose I have now lived long enough to see how we become products of the era in which we come of age.
My parents grew up during the Depression, and the hardships of that epoch have never left them. They were young adults during World War II. My mother worked at a USO canteen and watched all the young men she knew go off to war. My father was a member of that “greatest generation,” serving his country in Asia, wearing his uniform on his wedding day. The experiences and memories of these times shaped their principles, ideals and values.
I was raised on war movies and TV shows. I had toy guns and little toy soldiers, and I played war for fun. The Army surplus store was my favorite place. I had Army-issue helmets and belts and knapsacks and patches. I even had an Army gas mask and shovel and ammo box. I wanted to as manly, courageous and noble as my heroes on screen, in books, even in the comic books I read. I wanted to be a U.S. Marine when I grew up.
I came of age in the days and months and years of Vietnam. The Civil Rights Movement. Of love and peace and anti-war protest. Friends went to Vietnam; others went to school or the National Guard; one became and conscientious objector. My birthday was pulled 360th in the draft lottery. I have thanked God a thousand times that the closest I came to that war was the evening news, the horrific movies,the sights of camouflaged B-52s landing at the air base in my hometown, coming home from bombing raids in Vietnam or Cambodia. I came of age when the military was viewed by many with cynicism or suspicion, if not contempt. And with awe and admiration.
So my mixed feelings about the military have persisted. I felt this sharply during Desert Storm, when I felt conflicted between a “give ’em hell” patriotism, goaded by the rush of power and U.S. military might, and a skepticism of purpose, a sadness and guilt that innocents were killed or maimed for the sins of others. Perhaps I am not alone in my ambivalence. Perhaps it is healthy. Perhaps it is good to question the use of killing, to debate the morality of war, to never stop arguing over the role of the military and the use of force in an imperfect, sometimes evil world.
The conversation is not new to Notre Dame. The University has a tradition of patriotic sacrifice, courage and heroism on the part of family members who served proudly in the armed forces. The school also embraces the ideals of a Catholic faith tradition that vales peace and love and Christian principles of non-violence. Throughout its history this magazine has often engaged the debate. In this cover package we keep the dialogue going. The issues are perennial, throughout human history, in whatever era you come of age.
Kerry Temple is editor of Notre Dame Magazine.