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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Here's to Normalcy

I’m delighted to be back for another blogging stint; as always, thanks to Dan for the opportunity.

It's a busy time for law professors, between exams, graduations and preparations for summer writing. But bin Laden's death created one of those rare days we remember, not for personal reasons, but for our sense of the historical moment. We should make a little time to reflect on it. So it was jarring when, staring at the monitors at the gym yesterday, I saw a mixture of news coverage of the event and everyday American life -- VH1, ESPN and "Let's Make a Deal." "Somehow inappropriate," I thought to myself, referring to the latter programming, "somehow not right."

And then I thought of my father.

My father participated in some of the most horrific fighting the United States engaged in in the 20th Century: Anzio, Omaha Beach, the Bulge and the Chosun Reservoir, among other battles. But he never liked talking about it. When asked, he would mumble about it being bad, then make a facial expression that made it clear he wasn't interested in saying more. Once I received a letter, intended for him, from a veteran of the Bulge who was seeking information about other servicemen who fought there. I brought the letter to my father. No interest. He was much more interested in growing his tomatoes and watching his kids do well in school. For a kid who was just learning about history, it was frustrating that that he seemed uninterested in reliving (or even expounding on) his part in it.

But gradually I've come to understand it. My father, like (I've come to realize) most people, just wanted to live a normal life. Unless one is exceptionally fortunate, living in history tends to mean living among conflict, stress and uncertainty. As someone largely sheltered from all that, I've had to learn that fact indirectly (or, should I say, I've been fortunate enough to have had to learn it that way). He had that experience of history for nearly a decade.

It's certainly right to reflect when history demands our attention, as it did Sunday night. But I also understand the urge to live normally -- indeed, I understand it more and more as I get older and realize that larger crusades disappoint as often as they elate. Indeed, if we're doing things right, our involvement in history -- such as our killing of bin Laden -- should be motivated by a desire to allow things to return to normal. Maybe a better, fairer, more equal normal. But normal just the same.

One final point. Returning to normal -- or a better normal -- requires that people be plucked out of their day-to-day lives and thrown into history: Gettysburg, the Bulge, or Kandahar (or, for that matter, the Freedom Rides). So as we reflect on the relationship between history and normalcy, I'd like to offer my own pre-Memorial Day thanks to three generations of Americans that have made my own normal possible. First, my father's -- for the reasons stated above. Second, the generation between his and mine, the one that re-started us down the path toward a fairer domestic normal. And finally, the current generation, especially those that chose to serve after 9/11. I've had those students in my classes. In talking with them I've been so impressed with their decision to enter history and drop their own life plans, so we could continue on with ours. So as I ponder the inconceivable bravery of the SEALs who acted last Sunday, I also sneak a glance at the scores on ESPN. And I am grateful for the chance to worry about whether the Lakers will get past Dallas.

Posted by Bill Araiza on May 3, 2011 at 10:09 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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Great post, Bill.

Posted by: Kurt Lash | May 4, 2011 8:18:18 AM

Very well said.

Posted by: TS | May 3, 2011 2:16:12 PM

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