Visiting the National World War II Memorial on Memorial Day made me reflect on the colossal sacrifice of the Greatest Generation. Four hundred thousand of them died in less than four years — too many to list individually, as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial does. They are symbolized by a wall of stars, each star representing 100 lives snuffed out far too young. But I was struck, too, by the unshakable national unity despite, or perhaps because of, such terrible suffering. And that unity did not end when the war ended in 1945.
Sure, there were bitter partisan divisions after World War II, with McCarthyists accusing Democrats of disloyalty. But the veterans who returned to Washington — including Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson — also had a sense of shared purpose that allowed them to do really big, really important things for our country. All of the major bills in the next 20 years — aid to Greece and Turkey in 1947; the Marshall Plan in 1948; the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949; the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act; the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the 1965 Voting Rights Act; the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act; and the 1965 Social Security Amendments creating Medicare and Medicaid — were passed by enormous bipartisan majorities.
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