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The recent harking back to wartime has served several purposes, including the honoring of heroes - even, gasp, white males - who died in droves on both sides.

These days, as we know, these colorless fiends are said to be monolithic in their attitudes and customs, which makes one wonder what put them at each other's throats so recently as 50 years ago. No doubt our gender theorists will devise a suitably shallow answer and be rewarded richly for their insights. Perhaps this information is already available.In any event, the look back provides a great opportunity to gauge changing attitudes toward life itself. A recent television interview with Londoners who experienced the Luftwaffe bombardment, for example, was notable in that several agreed that the spirit of the wartime years was in many ways preferable to the spirit of the modern age.

The Londoners primarily miss the sense of pulling together to survive, which many of us who were born after the war can understand only in a theoretical way.

In normal circumstances, we prefer the individual life, as much as that is possible, though an appalling number of our compatriots seem to prefer the life of the mob and all the emotionalism and mediocrity that goes with it. But even modern-day loners will find attractive another aspect of the wartime outlook: the absence of paranoia about each and every minor "threat" to life, a paranoia that is often accompanied by an extremely ridiculous form of arrogance.

This arrogance has surely been experienced by all of us, most painfully by those who have friends who are health-obsessive. While wartime Londoners would have all but run through a bombardment for a crack at a T-bone dinner, our obsessives recoil should a steak be pulled from the meat drawer, acting in fact as if a buzz bomb had crashed through the roof. The subsequent lecture, simultaneously condescending and pathetic, often proceeds until your guest is pushed out the door.

We have grown used to this sort of thing, but one wonders how the likes of George Patton would have reacted to a lecture on the moral superiority of cracked wheat bread.

In fact, one wonders how Patton would have reacted had he known that America would soon enough become a land full of whiners and raging ninnies, led by a government that would force him to wear seatbelts, deny him the right to smoke his cigar in a public barroom and insist that he utter no gruff opinions about people whose behavior he might thoroughly despise.

How tiring it all gets. Now that the frontiers have been conquered and the enemy chased from the gate, it seems the objective is to make the entire nation much like the inside of a heavily monitored nursery, overseen by a staff that believes that if we cling to life furiously enough, death will disappear.

The result, of course, is a population that is increasingly fearful and dull.

The worst part of being continuously pelted with alerts about this or that risk (which are often laughably minute) is the development of a warped outlook, characterized by the absurd notion that the chief object of life is merely to prolong life, not to live. The end result is a life lived small.