The above scene was painted by Norman Rockwell in late 1945, just after the end of World War Two. It depicts the homecoming of a U.S. Marine, who has returned from the Pacific with a captured Japanese flag and now commands the rapt attention of his listeners in a local garage.
The painting represents a time — within living memory, although just barely — when there was still a commonly understood ideal of what it meant to be an American. More honored in the breach than in the observance, perhaps, but nevertheless a generally accepted cultural norm of civic obligation.
The moment was before my time, but only by a decade or so. In my early childhood that view of America remained predominant. Those little boys in the picture were the young men of my time, and the returning servicemen were the fathers of kids like me. What Norman Rockwell presented in that painting and innumerable others was American normalcy, as we all understood it. Yet it might as well have been the time of the Peloponnesian War, for all the relevance it holds in what passes for today’s civic culture.
By the 1970s Norman Rockwell was discredited in the eyes of cultural arbiters in the media and academia. He was dismissed as a hackneyed, jingoistic nostalgia-peddler, an archaic throwback in a time when the most respected artists included Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.
Centuries from now, when the foolish political and social fads of our time are long forgotten, Mr. Rockwell will be regarded with the respect he deserves. Like Rembrandt, he had an uncanny genius for depicting the human form and face in a way that conveyed a reality that the camera could not capture. He will be recognized as one of the great painters of our age — assuming, of course, that we have not by then become an American Emirate in the new Universal Caliphate, with all the graven images of our wretched jahiliyyah faithfully destroyed.
The cultural norms and ideals represented in Mr. Rockwell’s paintings were discarded along with his art. But this was true only within the lofty eyries of our cultural mandarins — he remains perennially popular among ordinary Americans, who revere his work as a reminder of what once was, but is now gone. The memory of the old culture still lingers in flyover country, even as it is deprecated, despised, and destroyed by the post-modern managers of the country formerly known as the United States of America.
For decades after most of the rest of the culture fell, the U.S. military remained a staunch bastion of the old ways. As the battering rams and siege engines of the long march broke down the walls of successive institutions — the media, academia, the public schools, commercial enterprises, the government — the military retained the spirit that was so lovingly chronicled by Norman Rockwell fifty years previously. The armed services functioned as a repository for our civic virtues.
All that has changed, thanks to deliberate, cynical policies implemented by the Obama administration. The top brass in all three services are now more concerned with putting women into combat and salving the feelings of their Muslim enemies than they are with their country’s ability to win a war.
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