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.
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.- Advertisement -
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.