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Monday, December 14, 2009

Is It Too Easy for America to Go to War?

In the aftermath of President Barack Obama's announcement last week that he plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, most Americans probably did not think about an alarming fact: Fewer than 1 percent of us are being called to fight in our current wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has thought about it, and he calls it "obscene." Herbert goes on to produce one of the most important and brutally honest op-ed pieces I've read in a long time.

Herbert relates a story that says a lot about how many Americans have come to think about war:

I spoke recently with a student at Columbia who was enthusiastic about the escalation of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He argued that a full-blown counterinsurgency effort, which would likely take many years and cost many lives, was the only way to truly win the war.

He was a very bright young man: thoughtful and eager and polite. I asked him if he had any plans to join the military and help make this grand mission a success. He said no.

It's easy to be enthusiastic about a war that you know you'll never have to take part in. In fact, most Americans know they won't have to sacrifice at all, and Herbert says that is dangerous for any society:

The air is filled with obsessive self-satisfied rhetoric about supporting the troops, giving them everything they need and not letting them down. But that rhetoric is as hollow as a jazzman’s drum because the overwhelming majority of Americans have no desire at all to share in the sacrifices that the service members and their families are making. Most Americans do not want to serve in the wars, do not want to give up their precious time to do volunteer work that would aid the nation’s warriors and their families, do not even want to fork over the taxes that are needed to pay for the wars.

To say that this is a national disgrace is to wallow in the shallowest understatement. The nation will always give lip-service to support for the troops, but for the most part Americans do not really care about the men and women we so blithely ship off to war, and the families they leave behind.

Finally, Herbert gets to the ultimate truth: The George W. Bush administration never would have started either of these wars if it had known that a broad cross-section of Americans would have to sacrifice for it:

The reason it is so easy for the U.S. to declare wars, and to continue fighting year after year after year, is because so few Americans feel the actual pain of those wars. We’ve been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we fought in World Wars I and II combined. If voters had to choose right now between instituting a draft or exiting Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops would be out of those two countries in a heartbeat.

I don’t think our current way of waging war, which is pretty easy-breezy for most citizens, is what the architects of America had in mind. Here’s George Washington’s view, for example: “It must be laid down as a primary position and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government owes not only a proportion of his property, but even his personal service to the defense of it.”

What we are doing is indefensible and will ultimately exact a fearful price, and there will be absolutely no way for the U.S. to avoid paying it.


Anonymous said...

yep, more hyperbole.

face the facts LS, the war machine is not American made.

the war machine is ancient and the US corporation is THE weapon of mass destruction and herbert's piece is more of the same:


it would be prudent and wise for all human beings who have brains still operational to get real passionate about the whole truth.

israel is the dictator in chief for the european union and ho hum, we are still in left right politics here.

thanks for not posting any of the real controversy, btw.


A Fortiori said...

I'm a vet who served three total tours, 2 in Iraq and 1 in Afghanistan. It will never cease to annoy me that the debate is controlled by the ones who have NO IDEA what deployments are like.

They destroy lives. They end marriages. They create kids who only truly know one parent. I agree with the author, that the distance 99.9% of Americans enjoy from the two combat zones breeds a true blitheness.

I found it incredible that people criticized Obama for taking time to actually THINK about it before committing. That ridiculous "dithering" charge could only come from a priveleged crowd of self-important windbags with ZERO direct connection to the consequences.

The author is absolutely right. It's all too easy for the unscathed to profess personal authority based on second/third-hand knowledge from self-interested pundits and idiot cable news wonks.

Anonymous said...

Yes SIR, Mr. VET, I too am a child of an officer of war: RJ, my father who was decorated for having more HUEY Helicopter hours than any other by Lyndon B. Johnson himself.

WAR IS MURDER AND IT IS MASS MURDER. Einstein already said this.

My poor father was a WWII POW, "damaged goods," by the time he was 22 and sent to Germany - GOD forbid he was allowed to be the artist enrolled at the Univ. of Indiana art school.


My brother who was my best friend in the world is dead due to the CIA and "US Military," simply because he wrote about what our father had done as an "American Military Hero."

TIME FOR AMERICA TO GROW UP AND STOP BEING ROCKSTAR WANNA BE DRUGGIES, this brand has been sold to the whole planet long enough and the 21st Century is tired of the same old sick story, wars without end unless the weaker of earth do not succumb to the insanity of their "NWO."

PLEASE, see Al Gore's sales pitch for all "progressives to be green."