As I’ve written before, there’s a long right-wing tradition claiming that since suffering builds character, Americans (who are not them) need to suffer. By this logic the Clinton years were bad because so many people could just work a 40-hour week, then lie around the rest of the time having fun. The 2008 recession was a win for America because it forces people to live conservatively and not live so hedonistically. William Bennett rhapsodized about the nobility of the Donner Party (who turned cannibal in desperation) and the Charge of the Light Brigade (heroically following orders so screwed up the charge was suicide). David Frum has admired Bennett’s insights.
None of these conservatives, of course, feel the need to participate in the sacrifice. Bennett is a wealthy, successful political activist. David Brooks believes economic hardship is character building, but he’s a multimillionaire. Countless conservatives during the Iraq War were enthusiastic supporters of other people fighting and dying, while insisting their writing was absolutely as important. Right-wing pundit Hugh Hewitt asserted that as a New Yorker, he was on the front lines just as much as any soldier in Iraq. Jonah Goldberg said it was ridiculous to say he should serve because he’d have to leave his family and his career (as if that didn’t happen to those who actually did serve).
In the same tradition, we have Joe Scarborough, my former congressperson turned right-wing cable-news bloviator, declaring that “Young men in the 1940s liberated Europe from Nazism and the Pacific from the Japanese Empire. Today, too many stay home playing video games.” In contrast to Scarborough, who’s never served but enthusiastically supported other people fighting and dying in the Iraq War. As noted here, “Morning Joe” hardly has the moral high ground over gamers.
He’s not even saying anything new. I heard the same arguments around the 50th D-Day anniversary (which was when the Greatest Generation idealization was building up steam): Kids today, they’re worthless and lazy! They’d never fight for their country the way the Greatest Generation did!” You’d think young soldiers’ service in the Iraq War would have shut that line of argument up, but I guess we have a new generation now to declare useless. Because they play videogames, which is the 21st century equivalent to “sitting on the couch watching TV,’ a short-hand for lazy bum.
And just for the record we had a draft in WW II. It’s not like the Greatest Generation filled the military with volunteers.
I’ll leave the last word to Orwell: “The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours.”