On Thursday the civilized world celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day when American soldiers crawled toward Nazi bombardment on French beaches.
That morning The New York Times ran a front-page article with this headline: "Their fathers never spoke of the war. Their children want to know why."
The article told of America's World War II combat veterans (my dad, a Marine private rifleman on Okinawa, was among them) who were the "Quietest Generation," and, some say, the greatest.
Unlike, say, U.S. Sen. Tommy One-Note Cotton, who makes his recent Iraq and Afghanistan service his political calling card and essence, these American men of World War II typically would speak little if at all of their wartime experience.
The article also told of their children. We failed in our early years to appreciate the recent history they'd lived. I came along eight years after the war ended, hardly any time at all by the aging adult standard. Yet my dad's experience sounded as distantly and dimly past as George Washington's.
Later we children became regretful, even exasperated, that our dads were too damaged to talk much about it.
We came to understand too late that our fathers were less the stern, gruff, detached men we thought we'd known than scarred and vulnerable men who couldn't easily speak of their experience or emotions, even their love for us that welled up because it wasn't ever released to words.
As I wrote years ago of my father: "He would have been peering into the dark distance, his own eyes moist. And he would have been saying what he so often said so powerfully, which was nothing ... . I could read some, but hardly all, of his sweetness, hardness, pride, fear, insecurity and pain."
Now let's turn to the contrast, from the unspoken, understated and pained heroism of yesteryear to the blustery megalomania of superficial self-celebration today.
On Wednesday, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, a woman named Ronna Romney McDaniel, went on Fox Business News and said, "We are celebrating the anniversary, 75 years of D-Day. This is the time where we should be celebrating our president."
That would be Donald Trump, a petty name-caller who avoided Vietnam service because he had a boo-boo on his foot.
Trump gave his own interview to Fox on Thursday, with Normandy's American grave markers in the background. Against that solemn canvas, he said that special counsel Robert Mueller, a Vietnam Marine veteran, had "made a fool of himself."
And he used "Nervous Nancy" to refer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who declined in Normandy to speak critically of Trump because, she said, the place and occasion were not appropriate.
The point is that Trump, by diminishing himself in our presidency, diminishes this American time. He defines us as the "Loudest Generation" and the "Least Generation."
He represents a time of unworthy and unredeemed braggarts who not only decline to keep quiet about whatever accomplishments they might dubiously claim, but who overstate those deeds through delusional self-celebration while ridiculing with crude rhetoric those who can't concede to worship them.
I have a friend who is an admirably inveterate seeker of higher meaning. He told me at lunch the other day that our theme of the day would be Socrates' reported declaration that "an unexamined life is not worth living."
To him, he said, the saying meant that we're all born into natural and unavoidably defining cultural influences.
He and I, for example, being in our 60s and white and from churches of conservative theology in Little Rock, began life as instinctive Razorback football fans with racial prejudices who saw right and wrong in the definitions provided by our parents and our parents' religion.
That's the unexamined life. The examined life, he said, begins if and when we come to question all of that--whether we ought to think the way we do and behave and affiliate in the way we do.
He said it occurred to him that the clearest example of an unexamined life is our current president.
Only a person utterly devoid of personal examination could adore himself so instantly, consistently, fully and confidently.
Only a person utterly devoid of personal examination could speak with such automatic juvenile disdain for any detractor or detraction.
For that matter, only an unexamined life could present such verbosity.
Self-examination requires quiet. It's an internal exercise. We've seen no evidence of Trump's ever being quiet or of his engaging in any activity not boisterously external.
Our World War II dads who wouldn't talk much ... they were examining their lives largely through the horrors they'd experienced, observed and maybe even committed.
D-Day's celebration was about them and for them, not him.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 06/09/2019
Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: The unexamined life