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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 12-9-22 – Tribe

“Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.” ― Sebastian Junger

This week, we observed the entrance of the United States into WWII. On December 7th, 1941, 81 years ago on Wednesday, Pearl Harbor was attacked. We essentially entered two major wars at the same time across the vast oceans to our east and west. It was an attempt by Japan to cripple the US and secure oil and other critical raw materials for their empire. They were betting on us surrendering after the elimination of our Pacific fleet by surprise attack. They saw our nation as lacking the will to defend itself. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was the chief strategist for Japan but also knew the battle would probably not achieve victory but rather create a deep unified resolve in America. He was right.

We fought on to victory in Europe and Japan. Everyone in America was called on to sacrifice in ways we can hardly fathom in this era when collective sacrifice is not in our frame of reference. Almost all the homes across the country had blue stars in their windows and a whole lot had gold ones. It was one of the hardest things our nation ever faced. The war came on the heels of the Great Depression, which may have served to prepare our people to face adversity. To think beyond their own needs. Those with food and shelter were quite fortunate, something widely understood then.

As the war ended, we had the most powerful military and manufacturing force the world had ever known. We could have taken over the globe. We did not do so. We helped rebuild the countries we defeated. We worked to shape a more united world with values of representative government. Our nation shared the ideals we strived to live up to.

Often, it seems like things I read, even on seemingly unrelated topics echo common themes. I love serendipity. Two books I recently read had me thinking about some of the underlying dynamics of what happened. The first was Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging and Daniel James Brown’s (who also wrote Boys in the Boat) book Facing the Mountain, the True Story of Japanese American Heroes in WWII. Great books with similar messages.

Jungers book addresses our need as humans to belong to tribe and how we actually thrive when confronted with challenge. External threats bring us together in ways that strengthen our collective bonds, we are wired this way. He explores how modern society has stripped away our sense of belonging and purpose, leaving us isolated and more vulnerable to mental health issues and random violence.

Brown’s book followed the lives of Japanese American families herded into concentration camps across America and treated very inhumanly by our government. Not our finest moment. The book helped me see their experiences in ways I had not considered before. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was that as the conflict unfolded, military aged young men in the internment camps were needed for the war effort. Despite how poorly we had treated them, thousands of Japanese American young people enlisted to defend us. Accounts from the book speak to how many of them fought for the ideals we stood for as a nation even as those ideals did not translate to just treatment for their own families. They recognized that the Axis powers posed an existential threat to all free people of the world.

I learned about the 442nd Infantry Regiment the most decorated unit in U.S. military history composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. These GIs were formed into units. They served together in the European theatre. They fought with valor and distinction even as their families faced discriminatory treatment here in the United States. I am grateful for Brown and his work to hold up these soldiers and their families for what they went through. Sadao Munemori mother was presented a Medal of Honor for his actions on the Gothic Line in 1946. In 2010, President Clinton awarded 20 more Medals of Honor to members of the 442nd several of them posthumously, he said “rarely has a nation been so well served by a people it has so ill served.”

I was born twenty years, nearly to the month that hostilities ended in Europe on VE day. Almost all those who fought are gone. All we have left are their stories and what their sacrifices yielded. I think that their examples are vitally important for us to reflect on now, as is the work of Junger to highlight our capacity to thrive during adversity. We are at our best when we feel purpose and connection, essential facets of humanity that seem absent for far too many of us in this age.

I am grateful as a recovering person to understand what belonging feels like. I am grateful for authors who write about topics critically important for us to understand. I am grateful for the inspiring examples of people who faced adversity and found ways to come together and overcome the challenges they faced. It provides us all hope. We have the opportunity to come together and not rip apart the fabric of this nation we have been charged with sustaining and pass on what was lent to us, this grand experiment called America. I hope we follow their examples.

What are you grateful for today?

Pictured above, an 1863 "Dix" coin, a privately minted civil war token popular in the Northeast and Midwest.

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