Saturday, June 09, 2007

Motherland or Fatherland?

The other day on the news, I happened to see the ceremony for burial for a member of the military killed in Iraq. As his father took the podium I braced myself for the tears and the outrage and the typical sort of imagery that the media usually shows from such events. Instead, the father said, "I was proud of my son when he joined. I was proud of my son as he served. And now, I am so proud of his service." Brave words. When you counter that with Sheehan and her disrespectful and often virulent protests after her son died, it made me stop and wonder what our nation has become, and why.
It made me think of how we have changed as a people and think whether much of this is because so many of our young men are being raised without fathers. When you look into the general population, although there are still some conventional families, the norm is the blended family or the single parent family. Back in the day-and by that I mean the Paleolithic times-mates were based on the ability to create life, provide services and the honor of the tribe was in continuing those necessary roles such as hunter, shaman, cook, and so on. Many of these roles were based on gender, mostly due to the role of women as nurturers. It is a traditional role, one that many feminists disallow, but one that continued unabated through many civilizations. There had to be a reason for that. And I think that the Greeks were closest in the spiritual plane of explaining the psychology of the sexes. They believed that the gods created four-legged, four-armed creatures that were complete in every way. And because they were complete and balanced, they were happy. Balance was the key to the Greeks, at least in theory. But the gods became jealous of the creations' happiness, so they cut them in half, leaving them to forever seek their missing half, their balance. Although graphic, I think there is some wisdom here.
Like it or not, when a child is raised in a single parent home, they are going to get a less balanced view of the world and a method of deciphering the world that is biased in favor of one gender over another. There's a good reason that children need both mothers and fathers. Mothers, generally, are more nurturing, more in touch with emotions, more responsive to emotional needs. Fathers, generally, are more goal oriented, more aimed at structure and discipline and more focused on such things as responsibility and follow-though. That's not to say these things are exclusive to one parent over the other, but when any child gets so absorbed by just their feelings, and their reactions, and their goals over the larger goals in life, it makes for some very selfish and self-serving adults.
When we fought in WWII, we were a Fatherland, a land that sought the goals of the "higher good" for a wider swath of humanity. While parents hated the idea of losing their children to war, there was a unified concept of national need. Today, our nation is divided by race, by sex, by religion, by education, by status, by wealth. The goals that were seen as national are now seen as marginal. We have become a nation of individuals that can only see the goal in the light of how it betters their situation. There is no adherence to the idea of a "higher good" that sometimes is served through the ultimate sacrifice. As I see it, we are now a Motherland, more dismissive of the societal goals unless they directly impact the individual. In a way, as our towns got larger, our personal focus became smaller.
And when you see confrontations over the war, or culture or any other aspect of the political realm, I think what we are seeing more of is Motherland vs. Fatherland. I don't think you can be both and successfully complete any mission. The Fatherland only hesitated slightly to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Motherland flinches when collateral damage occurs even if it prevents bloodshed down the line. It's a difference in long term goals and short term memory. And in terms of success, we need a Fatherland attitude to win wars and a Motherland attitude to keep domestic peace. We need to be able to make the hard decisions for the goal. And we need to have compassion and help after the goal has been achieved. Perhaps I am crazy, but it was something that struck me as interesting.
It is not the rich man you should properly call happy, but him who knows how to use with wisdom the blessings of the gods, to endure hard poverty, and who fears dishonor worse than death, and is not afraid to die for cherished friends or fatherland.
Horace (65 BC - 8 BC), Odes

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