PORTLAND, ORE. — If my parents were still alive, they'd be mightily displeased by the notion of US troops fanning out across the globe in an open-ended war against terrorism. "Why," my mother often lamented as I was growing up, "do we have to keep reinventing the wheel?!"
They met in 1943. My dad was a naval officer taking a navigation class at the University of Southern California and he ended up marrying the instructor. Her father owned a yacht, which helps explain how she learned to chart the sun and stars. She also served as a Red Cross volunteer and saw the carnage of combat firsthand as wounded vets returned home.
World War II was the pivotal experience of their lives, and while both were very patriotic, Mom never hesitated to express her feelings about what she perceived as poor leadership that had bungled much of the fighting and failed to bring about lasting peace.
In our household, famous names were routinely lambasted as being overrated or, in her most scathing assessment, "complete nincompoops." She held Gen. Mark Clark personally responsible for the hardships of the Italian campaign, with particular scorn placed on "that fiasco at Anzio."
George Marshall was also a frequent target: "When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was still buying horses for the cavalry!"
True or not, her observations reflected what I believe was deep disappointment with the international turmoil of the postwar era. Mom was particularly incensed in December 1973, when federal officials suggested that Americans eliminate holiday lighting displays as a way to cope with the oil embargo. "This was never supposed to happen again!" she said emphatically. "That's what they told us when the war ended!"
She made it sound as if a list of edicts were announced over the radio after the shooting stopped, promises made by the government about how safe and secure domestic life would be from then on. No such broadcast ever happened, but I can understand how average citizens who helped pull the US out of an economic depression and transform it into a world power might emerge from the experience with assumptions about the future that seemed as valid as any official proclamation.
My parents believed the sacrifices they endured would create a world in which they would never again have to deal with such a terrible event. Instead they ended up with the Berlin airlift, Korea, the cold war, and Vietnam. As time passed, I think they felt increasingly frustrated that a historic national effort hadn't produced the results they, or their peers, expected.
It would be nice if this country could reach a consensus about what specific results we should expect from the current war effort, but I don't think it's going to happen. Mom would say we're reinventing the wheel again. I used to argue with her about that view. But as the years go by and one crisis follows another, I'm inclined to think Mom was right after all.