Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Better Life is, the More We Bitch



In June 1975, 40 years ago, I enlisted in the Army.  I had been a civilian about ten months after a 2-and-a-half years in the Air Force.  In that post-energy-crisis era I had a boring job and decided to re-enlist.

I thought about re-enlisting in the Air Force, but they offered me pay grade E3 and no bonus.  Signing up for tanks in the Army meant E4 and a $2,500 bonus.  From the moment I got to Fort Knox for Armor School, I knew I made the right choice.  I had always wanted to be a soldier and being an airman was not the same thing.

Over time, I started to notice that soldiers bitched less than airman.  At first I thought it might be that a different kind of people enlisted in the Army than the Air Force.  While my fellow post-draft soldiers were further down the economic ladder and more southern than the airmen I served with during the draft and the Viet Nam War, they weren't that different.

Then one of the great truths of life showed its face on the horizon of my life:  The better life is, the more we bitch.  Everywhere, always.

On Hill Air Force Base, my duty station after Air Force technical school in 1972, I lived in a two-man room as an airman E2.  When I got promoted to sergeant E4 I was eligible for a private room.  Our chow hall served four meals a day: the usual three plus midnight chow.  We reported for work at 0730.  We were usually done by five.  We worked weekends maybe once every two months.  There were parties in the barracks and on the lawn outside.

And we bitched about everything:  the chow, the barracks, the one weekend we worked every two months.  When that weekend duty happened, we were whining.  We bitched about living in Ogden, Utah!!  Boring, we said.  The girls were Mormon and didn't party, we said.  Midnight chow always had pizza and omelets made to order, but did not always have hot dogs and hamburgers, we whined.  
[While I joined in the bitching as part of the group, I LOVED the chow.  My mother burned most food she cooked and I truly love military food.]

Three years later I was assigned to 70th Armor in Fort Carson, Colorado.  As a Specialist E4 I had an eight-man room.  Promotion to sergeant E5 got me a bunk in four-man room.  Chow was three meals a day with a much more limited menu.  We were armor.  We worked many nights.  We went to the field for up to two months at a time.  We trained in soldier skills after a day of maintenance in the motor pool.  Nobody partied in the barracks.

I heard so much less bitching.  Worse food, less space, less free time, and much less bitching.

For the rest of my life, I have seen the same theme repeated again and again.  The people who have it the best bitch the most.

The kids who grew up in The Depression fought World War 2.  They volunteered in millions, 15 million men and many thousands of women served in the military during the Second World War.  More than 400,000 died, more than a million wounded.  And people from every part of society served.  Rich kids, poor kids, everyone in between.

But the kids who grew up with me in 40s and 50s, the biggest boom in prosperity in world history EVER, were we the best generation ever?  We well-fed children of the winners of World War 2 made Sex, Drugs, and Rock the goal.  And along the way, we let the poor kids of our generation sacrifice their lives in Viet Nam.  The privileged of our generation said Viet Nam was the "Wrong War" and dodged the draft in millions.

There is a correlation between hardship and happiness.  America did not have a major genetic change between World War 2 and Viet Nam.  We were not different people.  We were the children of people who lived through hardship.  We had it easy, we became whiny bitches.

And now we live in country that makes millionaires every day and billionaires every week and whiners every minute.  We have the best medical care in history of the world, the most food ever and we may be as a group the least thankful people who have ever lived.

When people talk about America being in decline, I wait to hear what sacrifice they want to make to make the country better.  But what I inevitably hear is what stuff they need to be happier--and what everyone else should sacrifice to make them happy.

What's wrong with America?  Bitches!