Patrick Evans - We're suffering from 50 years of collective loss
As I watched various tributes last November to our late president, John F. Kennedy, I felt great sadness as I reflected on all we have lost as a nation in the 50 years since his assassination. Not only did we lose a very “human” man, father and leader, but it would seem that we lost our way as individuals and as a nation as well.
Consider these areas of our national life:
At the time of the president’s murder, I was a 19-year-old awaiting assignment to the Naval Hospital Corps School in San Diego. I was one of the fortunate few from my class who did not have to pay the ultimate price for the arrogance of politicians who, even 50 years ago, believed it was America’s role to police the world and to enforce our “values” on others, no matter what the cost to ourselves and those we were trying to “help.”
Today, we continue down the same path of arrogance by insisting that the American way is the only way — despite our much-vaunted assertions of individual freedom — and we are prepared to kill those whose approach to our short time on earth deviates from American dictates and our misguided “exceptionalism.”
I was fortunate to use the GI bill to attend college and graduate school. I graduated relatively free from debt. Yet today, we underfund and commoditize education on the mistaken assumption that education is not an investment in a new generation but rather just another commodity to be funded, allocated and evaluated based on cut-throat capitalism and highly suspect “outcomes.”
I was proud to work in government with the optimistic outlook that I was actually contributing to leveling the playing field between the rich and the poor. The idea of citizens taking care of themselves and their families and each other, no matter what color, how different or distant, went out the door with cuts to government programs for the poor, the mentally ill, the indigent elderly and returning veterans.
Now, our city streets and unseen “neighborhoods” are filled with people who have little education, no skills and no hope. Some use drugs and alcohol to try to escape from the grim reality of their daily lives, and prey on their fellow poor to feed their habits.
Twenty-plus years after I resigned my officer’s commission in protest over the first Iraq war, our nation continues to impose its “values” using military force and bloated weapons systems while citizens and children within our own borders go hungry and homeless.
What does it tell the world about our “values” when we maintain the largest military and “defense” industry the world has ever seen, an industry that, including all aspects of the military, takes more than 62 percent of our federal budget? Our cities, roads, bridges and schools are crumbling. What will it take to make us understand what Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed?”
When I was young, I had near certainty that, each year, my financial security would continue to increase. I was optimistic that life for my children would be better because mine was far improved over my parents’. I bought my first home in the mid-1970s using the GI Bill. Since then, we have maintained the illusion of prosperity by borrowing from ourselves and our children. The American standard of living is based on near-slave conditions for employees of our largest global retailers. Wildly increased worker output has accrued only to the wolves of Wall Street, never to the workers.
Access to health care and insurance, taken for granted as part of our benefit packages in the ’60s and ’70s, has become a hit-and-miss proposition tilted toward the profitability of insurance carriers at the expense of citizens, patients and health care. Among developed nations, we rank last in health care and first in childhood poverty.
Even Social Security seems viewed as an “entitlement” program to be attacked and modified so that all potential benefits will be delivered to wealthy speculators. It’s every person for themselves — unless, of course, you are wealthy enough to have a cadre of lawyers to purchase the politicians and twist regulations, laws and even contracts to your benefit.
Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated by the media to emulate the greedy, the vain, the pompous, the thieves, the thugs and gangsters, the inane and the untalented, while those who would teach moderation, grace and community are ridiculed? Why are scientists who point out the folly of our carbon-based economy taken to task by “faux news” when tens of thousands die as a result of global warming?
Why do American workers, themselves one paycheck away from homelessness, blame the poor or the different as the source of all our troubles rather than taking the time to understand the problems facing our nation are not generated from “Underworld” below but rather by the “overlords” above?
It breaks my heart to realize what we have allowed ourselves to become in a short 50 years. It would seem that John Kennedy’s murder was also the murder of our sense of solidarity, sense of community, and our pride and love for the basic values that now receive only lip service.
Patrick Evans, a proud native Oregonian and McMinnville resident, has worked as an executive in the health care and telecommunication industries.