I just caught up with the essay in the New York Times Magazine by writer Anne Bernays about her dismay at her grandson, David, becoming a Marine. His decision was an incomprehensible turn of events for Bernays. After all, she writes, she is a liberal Jew who raised her family in Cambridge, Mass. Her children went to the "best schools." They had "no money worries." In other words, people like this simply do not produce Marines. At David's graduation, she has a conflicted sense of pride in his accomplishments. But nowhere does she question her assumption that serving one's country is for other people, those without the education, the money, the privileges of her blessed family. You learn quite a bit in this short piece about Bernays' perfectly predictable reactions-she says she kept silently referring to Quantico, where Marine Basic School is located, as Guantanamo. But you learn almost nothing about the really interesting subject: why her grandson felt this call of patriotism and upended all expectations of him. And she never even considers that it is a bad thing about our country that so few of our elites hear such a call; that many look on it with bafflement, some even with contempt. As Bernays writes about herself: "She couldn't conceive of anyone wanting to do this."
My nephew is a Lieutenant in the Navy who graduated from Annapolis. He, too, grew up in Cambridge, is Jewish, and could have chosen a much easier path. Of course his parents, and the rest of us, have the kind of worries that go along with have a loved one in the military. But I can tell Bernays that our family has looked on Zac's choice with unmitigated pride, with awe at his sense of duty, and with a humility about what he and his comrades do for the rest of us.
Photograph of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.