By Joe Vitte
My father, a World War II veteran, and his “Greatest Generation”, has often been on my mind this year during our struggle for democracy in Wisconsin. I wrote this ode to him and his generation, last March. I was inspired (angered) – and took it personally, when I saw a Tea Party fanatic verbally accost a Madison protestor, who was carrying a sign, with a photo of his own WWII veteran father, at one of the large rallies, last winter.
When I saw that Tea Partier scream at the son of a WWII veteran, I felt as if my own veteran father was with me on the Capitol Square that day, and was being assaulted for his life of service.
Go ahead – call my dad a F*@#ING COMMIE!
Scream your vulgarities in dad’s face, when he is peaceably assembling, and speaking, along with other concerned citizens, seeking redress from government grievances.
You have every right as an American to get right up in his face and scream your obvious distaste of him.
“YOU LAZY F*@#ING COMMIE!”
But I have to let you know, that based on your ranting – and a few other anti-social behaviors – that it appears to me that you are lacking in a number of traits essential for the functioning of a free and civilized society.
I am not asking you to give up your first amendment rights. I am going to ask you, however, in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to our uncivil discourse, to please stretch yourself as an individual, and as a citizen, and for the sake of our state, and our country – try the following.
Imagine that the man you are screaming at is your father.
YOUR father. Your dad: a product of the “Greatest Generation”, one of the many in this country who grew up poor, in the Depression, served in World War II, came home, went to college on the GI bill, married, started a family, and worked hard to build this country.
Your dad. He believed that he could never finish repaying his country for its many gifts; especially the numerous liberties enumerated in its Constitution, liberties which he had already volunteered to defend against the forces of fascism, joining the Army only days past his eighteenth birthday.
But to dad, military service in “The Big One” was nothing to gloat about. Nor did he feel that it completed the payment of his debt to America. No, his time in the Army Airborne had simply been part of his duty as an American.
Dad’s belief in service to his country didn’t start and end with the military, for service was deeply rooted in the tenets of his faith, and the lesson from Matthew “that whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
And in your dad’s day, ideals were not only a part of religion. There existed the idea that good works were not only possible, but were a requirement of those who chose a career in the professions.
So with his faith, and the ideals of professional service as a foundation, he chose the law as a path to serve his fellow man (your dad said fellow man – not person). GI Bill exhausted, he put himself through law school, working at a less than glamorous factory job at Allis-Chalmers. And yes, it was a union job, as were the jobs of his father, his uncles, and his future wife and in-laws.
Your dad graduated near the top of his law school class, and went to work for the federal government, knowingly forsaking a private sector income that was many times more lucrative than his government pay.
Ironically, your “F*@#ING COMMIE” dad’s legal career began with the investigation of communist sympathizers in the Atomic Energy Agency in the 1950’s. From my perspective, it’s hard for me to judge if your dad did the right thing in the Red Scare era. Today, it would be easy to label him a communist “witch hunter”, but I’m guessing, like most patriots of his era, he was sincerely attempting to make the world safe for democracy.
But you, a bellicose berator of anyone who argues a point different from your own, you unflinchingly describe your dad, a Cold War Warrior, who sent two sons to Viet Nam, as a “F*@#ING COMMUNIST!!!”
After a decade in federal government, your dad moved into a democratically elected position in a democratically elected city government, and spent many years there. He jetted out to New York on occasion to spend time with old money Wall Street bankers and lawyers (yes, he dealt with CAPITALISTS) on bonding issues, in order to fund the necessary infrastructure that his thriving city required. These community projects, approved via a democratic process, provided libraries, fire stations, a city hall, and a community hospital for this democratic society.
And remember this, your dad, the former union factory worker, who was endorsed by the UAW and the AFL-CIO when he ran for office, was the lead negotiator for the City – yes, HE WAS THE MAN – in contentious labor struggles with municipal employees and teachers.
But your dad, in his role in “management” did not disparage, or vilify city employees or teachers, like you are doing in today’s debate, because your dad understood the essential nature of the services that these workers provided for your family, and your community.
And at a deeper level, and like a more prominent leader of that era, your dad’s opinion of government employees, and people in general, was based on “the content of their character,” a character which you misrepresent as F*@#ING VIOLENT COMMUNISTS.
When I see an angry person hurl those, and other vulgar and demeaning comments at your father, while he practices the very liberties which he personally defended against Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht, I have to wonder if the perpetrator was not as fortunate as you and I, and did not have compelling examples of democracy in action, in his life.
But I don’t know how he could not have, because every American, every one of us, is surrounded by people like your dad and mine. Sure, the details of their stories differ from our fathers, but the examples are there.
They have to be. These people must exist, or we, the United States of America could not exist as a free and democratic society. We don’t live alone, John Wayne on a horse, in some mythic John Ford landscape; we live and thrive, together, as a community.
I ask you, please, consider the lessons of your father, as I too, pledge to put the lessons of mine into action, so that we, together, may conduct a civil discourse, free from the unnecessary and damaging slander that has surrounded our latest differences at the Capitol.
Perhaps, together we can then chart a course for the future of our democracy – a course based on the shared liberties which your father, and mine, made so many sacrifices – so that you and I might enjoy them – before we pass them along to our children.