November 7, 2022

What Sacrifices Would You Make For a Cause?

What Sacrifices Would You Make For a Cause? 

What do you believe in? This question makes many people uncomfortable, so we  change the subject. But sometimes we have no choice; are we in or out? 

The Greatest Generation 

Tom Brokaw’s famous book about the generation who fought in World War II  rang true in my family.  

My mother, Louise was sixteen, a junior at Jordan High in Long Beach, California, when World War II began in Europe in 1939. Two years later, December 7, 1941,  her sister—my Aunt Erma, a young bride of 21—was hanging clothes in her back  yard on a hilltop at her Honolulu home in enlisted family housing when she  

witnessed the bombing of the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, her  husband—my Uncle Jack—was on a cruiser at sea with the aircraft carriers, which  happily were on maneuvers when the attack occurred. My aunt and the other  military families were shipped home, while my Uncle Jack’s ship went with the  carriers to rain holy hell on the Japanese fleet at Midway. 

I interviewed my uncle about his experiences in battle. He worked in the engine  room, from which there would be no escape if his ship was sunk. When I asked if  he had been afraid of dying, he just shrugged his shoulders fatalistically: “I didn’t  worry about it,” he replied. “It’s what we had to do. I figured that if my time was  up, then that would be it.”  

My mom lived with her sister in San Francisco while my uncle fought the  Japanese. Riding the cable car to work, Aunt Erma held her breath each day as she  scanned the newspaper for news of the great naval battles in the Pacific, only  exhaling when my uncle’s ship was not on the list of the ones that had been sunk.  

When he came home on leave, Uncle Jack introduced my mom to a shipmate,  who gave her a ring. She soon had second thoughts, but before she could give the  ring back, his ship went down, killing everyone aboard. She returned the ring to  his mother. My uncle had been transferred from that ship only weeks earlier and  would survive the war after participating in every major naval battle in the Pacific. 

Somewhere along the way, my mom married my dad. They had to hurry because  he had orders for Europe, where he was destined to serve as a platoon sergeant. 

“I wanted to get pregnant before he left,” my mom said years later (TMI, Mom), “because I was sure he was not coming back.” But he did come home, and I was  born a short time later. 

I asked my mother whether she had wondered during the war what life would be  like if the Axis powers had won. “Not once,” she replied. “We never believed we  would lose the war. But we did think a lot of our boys were going to die, and  many of them did.” 

Mom died four years ago at age 95. Thinking back on our conversations, I wonder  how Americans would react today in similar circumstances. Are we too  accustomed to letting professional soldiers fight our wars, offering “Thank you for  your service” if we ever encounter one? Or would we have the courage to do  what was needed to defend our way of life? 

The Lessons of Ukraine 

In a thought-provoking article in The Atlantic, “Ukrainians Are Defending The  Values Americans Claim To Hold” (Oct. 2022), journalist George Packer suggests  that we can learn from the Ukrainian people. Before the Russian invasion of  February 24, 2022, he reports, Ukrainians were not united in their views about  Russian claims on their territory. The revolution of 2014, in which Ukrainians  “rallied to overthrow their corrupt, Russian-backed president, . . . was far from  universally popular. Not even Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea and the  eight-year separatist insurgency in the Donbas region could fully overcome the  historical divisions in Ukraine’s conflicting pulls toward democratic Europe and  autocratic Russia.” 

But “[f]rom the first hours of the Russian invasion” in February 2022, Ukrainians  united behind the principle of “self-organization.” As one Ukrainian explained, “’I  think self-organization comes from an idea of community which is very deep in  our culture. In Ukrainian we call it hromada. The idea is that politics is about  horizontal relations between people and not about vertical relations of power’.” 

According to Packer, “the Russian invasion has elevated the idea of hromada from  local communities to the whole country. By killing Ukrainians regardless of their  region or language or politics, Russia is helping forge Ukraine into something it’s  never been—a national community.”

Because of this new sense of community, the Ukrainian people are now united in  their cause against the Russian invasion. “We don’t even think about” losing, said  a Ukrainian. “We need victory. Not-victory is not even in the mind. We have no  choice. . . We’re trying to do a really huge thing: to build a new country while we  fight the war. When we win, it will be beautiful.” 

The Ukrainians know what they believe in and are willing to die for it. The Dutch Resistance During WW II 

Such thinking was familiar to Americans like my mother and father and my aunt  and uncle during WW II. My wife’s mother, Hetty Kraus (1920-1994), would have  understood it too. She was a student at Leiden University when the Nazis invaded  the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. Not long afterward, she joined the Dutch  resistance. I tell her story in my novel, The Lioness of Leiden, due to come out in  April, 2023. Visit for more details. 

Bob Loewen