Some years ago, I had the chance to talk with a few World War II veterans. They told stories of how they made it through the war, mixing in humor about military life with the grimness of what they had experienced. Occasionally, they’d choke up at the thought of losing a friend.
What I remember most is their sense of getting through it together. Even though they served in different units in different places, they recognized that they were all in it together.
They felt like a band of brothers.
Their stories recalled how they were alive because of luck — the bullet happened to barely miss them and hit someone else — and because so many others had courageously looked out for them. They cared for each other, covered for each other, encouraged each other, protected each other as best they could. They got through it together.
They had each other’s backs.
And that realization didn’t end when the war did. Many of them brought that sense of brotherhood home with them. The boss didn’t see himself as any better than the workers — he had endured the same as them and was alive because of them. They would regularly get together at the VFW post and retell their stories of helping each other through those difficult times.
Now, this isn’t meant to glamorize war, which is always an ultimate human failure, the horrific result of people failing to get along. And this isn’t meant to romanticize the times, either. Many people were excluded from that band of brotherhood. Racism and segregation during and after the war excluded many from equal treatment in society. Women weren’t fully allowed either. Others were kept outside the band as well.
But a sense of togetherness is important, even if it’s imperfect and needs to be expanded. And it’s something that we’ve lost to a significant degree, isn’t it?
Instead of protecting each other’s backs nowadays, we’re encouraged to climb over each other’s backs in order to get ahead. Or to stab one another in the back, if that’s what it takes — it‘s just business, after all. Everyone is on their own — you watch out for your own back, I’m looking out for mine.
Our sense of connectedness and interdependence has unraveled.
We don’t recognize the countless people in the world who have brought us to this moment and sustain us in it. We overlook the love and courage and dedication of the many who healed us when we were sick, reached out to us when we were in trouble, protected us when we were vulnerable, reassured us when we were worried, comforted us when we were grieving, inspired us when we were struggling. We forget the many sacrifices that so many have made for each of us. We stop looking out for one another as a society.
We forget that we’re all in this together, a band of brothers and sisters that extends beyond national boundaries and includes everyone in God’s family. And that we need to have each other’s backs at all times.