Donald Trump Jr., in his better-selling book, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us,” writes of his reactions to visiting Arlington National Cemetery and driving “past the rows of white grave markers.” He explains: “In that moment, I ... thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed ... Frankly, it was a big sacrifice, costing us millions and millions of dollars annually ...”
Forget that President Donald Trump and his family — in spite of their self-proclaimed “sacrifice” — continue to profit from the family’s hotel and real estate holdings and dealings since Trump, unlike previous presidents, retained ownership of his business and the Trump Organization, and has continued to make money from deals around the globe. In comparing the scrutiny and criticism Donald Trump Jr. has received in the press to the ultimate sacrifices of the 400,000 American fathers, brothers and sisters buried beneath the green hills of Arlington, he can be accused of callousness and egocentricity. But while perhaps extreme, his ignorance of American tradition and history is not uncharacteristic of the Me Generation, which he sadly represents.
It once was an unassailable American value that “war demands equality of sacrifice.” An 18-year-old George H.W. Bush believed that and left the comfort and prestige of Yale to become the Navy’s youngest fighter pilot in combat in the Pacific War. And a sickly young Harvard graduate used family influence to pull strings and have the Navy allow him to go to war, where he would captain a PT boat in the Pacific but survive to, 18 years later, become President John F Kennedy.
It was a time when the president’s sons all went to war: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s son Elliott Roosevelt became an Army Air Force pilot and flew over 300 combat missions. Jimmy Roosevelt enlisted in the Marine Corps and, in fierce combat against the Japanese, earned both the Navy Cross and the Silver Star. Navy Lt. John Roosevelt eared the Bronze Star in war, while Franklin Roosevelt Jr. was awarded the Silver Star for bravery under heavy enemy fire.
Americans once lived by the principle that we all are required to sacrifice. The federal income tax was first championed by Republican President Abraham Lincoln in order to pay for the Civil War. The income tax was made permanent by Democratic President Woodrow Wilson to pay for World War I. After Pearl Harbor, Americans on the home front accepted the rationing of meat, alcohol, cigarettes, liquor, sugar and butter. War demanded equality of sacrifice.
All of that changed, tragically, with Vietnam. The sons of affluence and influence gamed the system to avoid serving. That was followed by the all-volunteer military, which guaranteed that instead of three out of four male high school graduates and three out of four college graduates serving in the American military, the sons of privilege would be spared the burden of fighting for their country.
The late Sen. John McCain was the last American presidential nominee to wear his nation’s uniform and go to war. Let us not blame Donald Trump Jr. No one in his family had ever been seen fit to sacrifice for his country by serving. His father famously compared his avoiding sexually transmitted diseases during the ‘90s to his “personal Vietnam.”
War truly once did demand equality of sacrifice. But no more in 21st-century America.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.