Originally published in The Daily
Americans have had a lot on their minds lately. Soldiers are battling insurgents in Iraq and a resurrection of violence has erupted in Afghanistan, not to mention the recent domestic tragedies of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which killed thousands and displaced millions of Americans.
No, these aren't tranquil times at all. How have we possibly weathered the last few years so punctuated by violence, scandal and tragedy of mammoth proportion?
Just as easily as the evening news transitions from reporting another soldier's death to a commercial for Aquafina, America's awareness shares a similarly fickle route. Through image and word, we are exposed to the vast drama that unfolds around us and with a solemn and sincere voice we express our grief. After that tack another magnet on our Hummer to pledge our allegiance. This though, has not always been our way.
During the first and second World Wars, limits were placed on consumable goods as troops devoured resources. Civilians contributed their time and energy and civically engaged by planting patriot gardens to develop self-sufficiency while making due with older automobiles and appliances.
The gauge of one's patriotism was not the size of their flag, but rather the impact of their contribution and service. Later, during one of the most volatile periods of the Cold War, President Kennedy proclaimed, "...ask what you can do for your country."
After 9/11 our current President George W. Bush asked us to shop and continue with our lives undeterred in spirit and unfettered by taxes.
The contrast in contribution couldn't be greater.
There may be a very good reason for the modern American's disengagement. We pay little for the consequences of our government's actions or our own as citizens.
Since President Richard Nixon repealed the draft in 1973 and the armed forces were transitioned into an all-volunteer force, healthy men no longer have to digest the newspaper's international section with such gravity and trepidation. In today's military, the soldiers that sacrifice their lives for our wars are mostly from rural and economically depressed communities.
Our present laughably immense national debt appears just as inconsequential as it does immense. This added to the image refined by our leader's press offices that every catastrophe is either under control and bound to improve, or an unavoidable consequence of modern society, persuades the average citizen to throw up his or her hands and accept the day's events without reservation.
Can we do better, or are we consumed by the lure of consumption? Will Americans loosen the grips on their iPods just long enough to reach for a pen or a protest sign? As the amnesia of 9/11 subsides, and in the wake of numerous wars and natural disasters, Americans have the supreme opportunity to invest in our nation, engage in our government and directly contribute.
Donate your spirit, time and energy to help others domestically and abroad. While the daily distractions of modern life are unrelenting, a return to civic involvement might very well be coming back in fashion -- and it's on sale.