It's impossible to speculate with any confidence how the prospects for democracy in the Middle East will play out, but it's not difficult to see the appreciation and the courage of those Afghan men and women who got up before dawn to walk for miles to line up to elect a new leader. Iraq is more opaque, but Saddam Hussein is gone, his torture chambers emptied, and mass graves stand as mute testimony of the cruelty he inflicted on the innocents.
In neither country were our troops greeted with the roses and kisses that greeted American soldiers when they marched through the streets of liberated Paris. The menace in the Middle East thrives within covens of suicide bombers and covert terrorists who slither through back streets and darkened alleys. But soldiers who have served there have seen the joy reflected in the faces of women who now are free of their tormentors, in the smiles on the faces of children who freely bounce soccer balls with them.
What runs through the personal portraits in the "The Greatest Generation" is the way men and women accepted responsibility for doing their duty without anger or self-pity. There was a job to be done, and they did it.
"The World War II years will forever be testimony to America's collective and individual resistance to tyranny," writes Tom Brokaw. Common values impart common strengths. The dissent that dominated the land in the 1930s evaporated after Pearl Harbor. We thought that might happen again in the days following September 11, but it didn't. Too bad for all of us.
Outrage seeks to place blame and politics divides. But if we and our allies succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq, we will look back yet with pride in this new generation that answered the call of duty, honor, country. They deserve our gratitude now.
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