At the Memorial Day ceremony I attended, sweat running down my back under the hot sun, the American flag flapping in the wind and a nearby pond smooth as a pane of glass, my thoughts drifted to my daughter’s Opa.
Hershel Holmes, good, gentle, kind, forgiving and steadfast, is one of those men who passes through your life, and later, when you think of goodness, you see his face and a smile slips across your own.
Once, while we were sitting in his Kansas home, I asked if he’d share a bit of his service in Vietnam to help me out with an English class at Kansas State. He sat calmly in his chair in front of television, and I bent forward at the waist on the couch a few feet away.
His story bled tragedy. All Vietnam stories seem to drip agony from the often still open wounds of veterans, a pool of misery at their feet that many of them spend the rest of their lives drowning in.
But what stood out the most was Hershel’s recollection of returning home. Many soldiers participated in and witnessed unspeakable acts in a war they didn’t understand. The one solace was they had fought for their country.
But when they arrived home, their country spat on them as protestors accosted soldiers who had just left a living nightmare.
I wept the day he shared his story. I didn’t understand. Many of the protestors appear highly intelligent on shows documenting that period of history, yet they lashed out at soldiers who had no choice but to obey orders of a government that, in my opinion, consistently sends soldiers to questionable wars and conflicts.
The same shedding of civility and misdirected anger can be seen today, but on a different, less deadly front, in the wake of the Great Recession, as so many struggle in an economy that weighs heavily on their shoulders. A war of ideologies is pitting rich against poor, Republican against Democrat, liberal against conservative and atheist against the faithful.
People are rightfully angry in a country pathetically far from even the hint of a livable wage and where health care is disgustingly inadequate and leaves some without care and many beaten by debt. Americans are nourished by an environment pummeled by pollutants killing many of us, taxpayers are being choked to death, true freedom slumps in the lap of the majority and sticks its tongue out at those whose voice is unable to be heard over the roar of oppression, and a small minority of the powerful are giggle all the way to the bank.
There’s much to be angry over as Americans hiss and spit at each other instead of focusing that very powerful energy on finding a cure for the disease spreading as we divide ourselves.
At local school board meetings, I’ve seen taxpayers shout and shake with rage. One man sits in the audience and calls board members names under his breath and picks on teenagers during public comment period.
I’ve also watched board members speak down to the public, ridicule those who criticize them and shrug after hearing stories of residents forced out of their homes by rising taxes.
It’s true, some taxpayers are being sucked dry. It’s also true that school districts are being ravaged, and the devastating reality is public education has never been funded close to what is needed to be effective for all.
But instead of joining forces and taking aim at the culprits, who display a blatant disregard for the majority of Americans, acting like children who consistently get away with hogging the swings on the playground, we are spitting at each other once again.
Other valuable programs are in jeopardy too, and instead of pursuing the crooks who wage costly wars and provide tax breaks to corporations bulging at the seems with money, struggling taxpayers are accosting hard working poor people earning a pittance. They are scowling at victims of unspeakable circumstances and shaking their finger at those blindsided by random horrors, turning their noses up and cursing about entitlements.
There is much to be angry about, but average Americans with displaced anger who are footing the bill need to quit spitting at their potential brothers and sisters in arms.
As I sit here writing this, I think of Hershel and the lack of civility he experienced and misdirected anger aimed his way, and I realize we haven’t come very far.
Reach Editor Stephen Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.