As we play with our kids, dodge barbecue stains, and enjoy a mojito or three, you could hardly tell we’ve just been in two wars. We’d look more frazzled after a full day at Disney or the mall. I’m not saying we should spend today reciting the name of every fallen American hero; I do ask the comfy among us to consider what we’ve lost by becoming so detached – and why we won’t need a hot tub time machine to reverse it.
One thing that’s clear is we’ve come to expect lots of amazing things – almost instantly. Facebook, Google, news, games and Amazon’s free shipping are amazing. Our iPads and phones are flawless and infinitely molestable. We can enjoy them all from the comfort of the couch, as a local restaurant dispatches the hardworking Miguel to deliver our food. It’s a matter of time before he stays over to feed it to us. It’s all so perfect, so gratifying.
We’ve been conditioned to expect freedom and war the same way. Where were all the pictures of bloody battles or attacks on military bases? The photos of soldier or civilian bodies? Do most of us even know one of the thousands who died or was injured? The truth is, freedom-fighting and death have been outsourced and iPhoned. We don’t see the ugly guts of battle any more than we see loose wires hanging from our Kindles. That just wouldn’t work. Our freedom is increasingly defended by the poor, minorities, and Blackwater mercenaries. People who were probably not invited to your barbecue today.
These two wars are almost over. They seemed so bloodless. Maybe with drones, at least our side will soon be bloodless. In the year 3345, when Afghanistan creates its first drones, their side will be too. Until then, let’s consider what we’ve lost by creating this detachment:
Accountability and restraint: Would you treat your own home as carelessly as a vacation rental? Would the kitchenette be piled with plastic cups and sticky from Pepsi spills? What if your daughter had to fight in future wars? I bet you’d take a big interest in peace and politics. Instead of taking more accountability, we are about to entice even more immigrants to fight for us. No shared sacrifice, no restraint. Easy as World of Warcraft.
Discipline: Admit it, your kids are an undisciplined mess. OK, maybe not your precious bundles of perfection, but everyone else’s. These little pork chops are likelier to find loose M&M’s behind the couch than India on a map. Life’s been easy and it shows – on our bellies, chins, and more chins. The discipline of waking up early, taking orders, having a regimen, and delivering results – no matter what – went extinct with the arrival of Big Macs, flat screens, and precious Miguel. As a result, we all pay a price by nursing a generation that doesn’t want to work for success, but merely feels entitled to it.
Crippled Economy: A lack of discipline and competitiveness adds up at a country level. As I wrote in Econovation, what makes Israelis and Mormons so good at business and innovation is a discipline instilled from youth. Both use service – military or community, to develop self-reliance and deliver results. No wonder so many Mormons are senior executives and Israelis are the most successful tech entrepreneurs in the world (Silicon Valley bubbles excluded). Imagine if the US could scale that kind of discipline and success… I think we can.
On this day of grilling meat you didn’t kill and calling friends on phones you didn’t make, please consider the possibility that maybe we could do better. Maybe we could become better citizens. Maybe we need a little push. I think that push would be one or two years of mandatory service – civil or military. The mission might be to build low-income housing, teach English to immigrants, or build wells in Tanzania. But the discipline should be the same as the military. No exceptions. Plus, the last year of high school is a waste anyway. Kids either wait to hear from colleges or for parents to leave the house so they can lose their virginity in undisturbed awkwardness.
You know how carrots don’t taste as good as Cheetos? Well, this is exactly like that. Eat enough of them and you’ll be part-owner in a better, more accountable America.