Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sacrifice in a Time of War

At his press conference the other day a reporter asked BushCheney the following question:

What, sir, do you think the impact of the discussion of impeachment and censure does to you and this office, and to the nation during a time of war, and in the context of the election? (emphasis mine)

The phrase “time of war” comes up a lot these days, no doubt because the US has forces engaged in combat. It conjures up images of sacrifice necessary to ensure victory. The question itself suggests that wartime exigencies require patriotic Americans to refrain from questioning our leaders since that presumably puts American forces at greater risk. BushCheney calls himself a “war president”, likening himself to Lincoln defending the Union or FDR fighting Japan and Germany.

Observing American life in the fifth year of the Global War on Terror, little seems to suggest a nation at war. Other than surrendering Constitutional rights to an increasingly powerful executive, Americans are being asked to make few sacrifices. Certainly not financial sacrifices in the form of higher taxes that this nation saw during World War II (although future generations will no doubt sacrifice to pay off the debt we are currently running up). Not conscripted military service to ensure that the nation has sufficient manpower to meet its military requirements. Not energy or material conservation. Nothing about the current war suggests that this nation is really in “a time of war”.

The lack of sacrifice suggests the war is of little consequence to most Americans. The Constitutional rights that are being abrogated are largely abstract; most people don’t really think that they are affected. Only the military and its families are truly sacrificing; they suffer the death, disability, separation and financial loss in this war. The rest of us go on with life as if nothing has changed even as BushCheney constantly bruits out that 9-11 “changed everything”. The lack of shared sacrifice was noted in an article I saw last year about soldiers returning to the States only to wonder a how little the war seems to affect the nation (sorry, I haven’t been able to locate the link). This, of course resonates with me since I experienced the same feeling when I came home on leave halfway through my tour in Vietnam and when I came home at the end of my tour.

Nothing I saw then suggested that Americans really paid much attention to the war. My sacrifices, those of my buddies seemed so far away from the everyday life of most people. I encountered very few, if any, other veterans. I had little in common with the VFW and American Legion types who so strongly supported the war. No one wanted to hear me talk about an experience that was at the same time profoundly frightening and fantastic, the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me. Life seemed to have just continued while I was away and whatever I had done in Vietnam just wasn’t part of daily life in the nation I was supposedly defending. I wanted to scream out that there was a real war going on where real people where getting killed. I wanted to shatter the complacency I saw all around me.

Not that I expected any gratitude or thanks. I knew that whatever sacrifices I made in Vietnam would do little for the nation. Still, I wanted some recognition, some acknowledgment of my experience. That never happened. Even my friends were at best tolerant of my obsession with Vietnam and I soon learned not to talk quite so much about it, although I never really shut up about the war. I may not have believed in my war but it affected me deeply. That my countrymen did not share those feelings angered and frustrated me.

Reading that Iraq war veterans wonder if they aren’t bearing the full brunt of sacrifice in this war, rekindles those longstanding emotions. I recognize their frustration. Perhaps the difference is that, going in, I knew that my service was pointless, that Vietnam was no real threat to this nation. These days, our volunteer military believes the rhetoric so the discrepancy between their sacrifice and the lack of same on the home front is so much more jarring.

Of course, both wars were/are based on lies. If either Lyndon Johnson or BushCheney had told the country what the real situation was or honestly indicated what the costs would be, neither war would have been launched. Looking back on Vietnam, I think Johnson’s lies resulted from his insecurities and cold war ideology. BushCheney, on the other hand, is a cynical lackey of the military-industrial corporate state. That’s why he will never be honest about the war or ask for real sacrifice from Americans. That would wake up the nation and drain what little support remains for the Iraqi quagmire. Instead he conjures up the specter of an all-encompassing terrorist threat to scare Americans into submission and to create an enemy for our military to fight. First Iraq, now Iran. All in the name of fighting terrorism, the war against an abstract noun.

BushCheney said at that same press conference that American forces will be in Iraq until after he leaves office, which means another two years of carnage, cost, intrigue and sacrifice for our military. The rest of us can just go about our business.


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