This past week Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta received the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest honor for bravery and self-sacrifice. When his unit in the Afghan mountains came under enemy attack, Sgt. Giunta ran into the face of enemy fire to save his fellow soldiers; he not only saved his comrades but lived to tell of it. Regardless of what one thinks of the war, Sgt. Giunta’s courageous and self-sacrifical actions are worthy of the honor he received. Most Medals of Honor are awarded post-humously, so the fact that he lived to received it in person is nothing short of miraculous.
Understandably Sgt. Giunta has received a lot of press leading up to his receipt of this honor. However, it is not only Sgt. Giunta who has made sacrifices. Politicians and media personalities regularly note the sacrifice that the men and women of the military, as well as their families, make (as the phrase goes) “to preserve our freedom” as Americans. In this blog I have regularly questioned whether or not that sacrifice is misdirected; but questions about the war aside, there is no doubt that these young men and women make a tremendous sacrifice in the work they do.
So it is all the more troubling to me that the spirit of sacrifice that is so highly honored in our military personnel seems to get lost when we look on the domestic front. Many people in our nation are going through difficult times. People are losing their homes, 50 million people have no health coverage, and 9-17% of Americans (depending on how you count) are out of work; times are hard for many. Yet when it comes to those of us who are doing relatively well to make sacrifices on behalf of those who are not, we pull back.
Republicans campaigned and won on a platform that included a commitment to repeal the recent health care reform bill. Just this week Republicans blocked an attempt to extend unemployment benefits to the long term unemployed. In my own state of Pennsylvania, the new Republican governor has vowed to cut back on social services. Across the country rural and urban school districts are vastly under-funded compared to their suburban counterparts. Yet, fiscal conservatives are vowing to allow the tax cuts to wealthiest Americans (those who make over $250,000 per/year) to remain in place, all the while saying the decisions to make cuts in the area of human services need to be done because we can’t afford them. We can “afford” to give corporations and wealthy people tax loopholes and tax breaks, but we can’t provide health care, or unemployment benefits? What’s wrong with this picture?
Where is the praise for the spirit of sacrifice now?
Years ago I wrote a song, which had this line:
“The people outside say they gotta have, but no one wants to give.”
It seems that line has come true in 2010.
As I have watched friends and loved ones struggle to find a job, or get by without health care; and as I have advocated for equitable schools, and walked in neighborhoods where nearly 50% of the able bodied and willing workers can’t find jobs, I am appalled at the selfishness of our middle and upper middle class populace. I am one of them. Do I want to pay higher taxes; of course not, but I will if it helps someone else. Do I want some of my services redistributed to others? If it means all will be a little better off, then why not?
I grew up in the generation who was inspired by the words of John F. Kennedy who said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” Kennedy called us to service and sacrifice for others. Out of his efforts came the Peace Corps and VISTA programs. As a people we need to hear and respond to those words again by a willingness to take on a spirit of sacrifice on behalf of others in our midst.
Times are hard – yes they are, but a spirit of sacrifice among those of us who have enough could go a long way toward making life less difficult for the millions in need all around us.