America has just come off a historic mid-term election, with widespread implications for the nation and world. The economy and jobs, spending and deficits dominated the political discussion, though some found the energy and time to talk about other matters such as health care and immigration. On one subject, however - one inextricably linked to the big four above - virtually all were silent: America's ongoing war.
America has just come off a historic mid-term election, with widespread implications for the nation and world. The economy and jobs, spending and deficits dominated the political discussion, though some found the energy and time to talk about other matters such as health care and immigration. On one subject, however - one inextricably linked to the big four above - virtually all were silent:
America's ongoing war.
On this 91st Veterans Day - the 11th day of the 11th month, 2010 - one would think Americans could at the very least pay the soldiers representing our interests in Afghanistan and the veterans who so admirably served there, in Iraq and elsewhere over the decades, the respect and thanks they deserve before returning their attentions to their own immediate concerns.
In fact the U.S. has some 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan (with nearly 50,000 still in Iraq). Thus far almost 1,400 Americans have given their lives on Afghan soil. U.S. taxpayers have spent upwards of $300 billion on that corner of the globe. Yet we can't just blame the politicians for glossing over all that. They take their cues from a citizenry that, on one poll after another, barely mentioned the war as amongst the nation's major problems. That is a sea change from the 2006 mid-terms, when the war on terrorism and in Iraq topped most lists.
So what happened?
Certainly the worst recession in most of our lifetimes happened. A new administration in the White House happened, one that hasn't ignored the war but seems far more interested in confronting domestic challenges. Almost a year ago President Obama signed off on a surge policy but also set a deadline for beginning withdrawal in mid-2011; perhaps many Americans just believe the conflict is drawing to a close. Whatever the case, if there was a time when many Americans could point to Fallujah on a map, we'd wager significantly fewer can find Kandahar now.
That's unfortunate, certainly for the soldiers and their families who are disproportionately shouldering the immediate sacrifices of a nation at war - one of the great irritations of a decade in which we've fought two major wars that too many Americans have failed to notice - but also for those citizens who aren't connecting the long-term dots here. In fact this war and the cost of it in blood and treasure has a great deal to do with the economic recovery and Uncle Sam's ongoing spending and borrowing. In short, their self-interests, whether they have a loved one there or not.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose words and warnings seem to grow in stature with the passage of time, put it quite well in his famous "Cross of Iron" speech more than 57 years ago: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
"This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
"The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
"It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
"It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
"It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
"We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. ...
"This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
Eisenhower was talking about the perils posed by the former Soviet Union, but in so many ways that "cross of iron" remains, as does the choice of warfare vs. welfare in a nation that many sense is losing its grip on its status as the most powerful, productive, prosperous and privileged in the world. Eisenhower got it. At some point more Americans must, too.
In the meantime, as members of our local Guard and Reserve units go back and forth between battle zones and home with little fanfare - some 150 from the local Air Guard base alone - the least we can do is to not forget them, or the veterans of any of our wars. Not today, not any day.
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.