Editorials | Opinions
|The Wars That America Forgot About|
Tom Brokaw - New York Times
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October 18, 2010
In what promises to be the most contentious midterm election since 1994, there is no shortage of passion about big issues facing the country: the place and nature of the federal government in America’s future; public debt; jobs; health care; the influence of special interests; and the role of populist movements like the Tea Party.
In nearly every Congressional and Senate race, these are the issues that explode into attack ads, score points in debates and light up cable talk shows. In poll after poll, these are the issues that voters say are most important to them this year.
Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?
How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.
In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans’ health care. And the end is not in sight.
So why aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?
The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services — or have a family member who has stepped forward — nothing much is asked of them in the war effort.
The all-volunteer uniformed services now represent less than 1 percent of the American population, but they’re carrying 100 percent of the battle. It’s not unusual to meet an Army infantryman or Marine who has served multiple tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.
Moreover, the majority of those in uniform come from working-class or middle-class backgrounds. The National Guard units and reserve forces that have been called up, some for more than one tour, draw heavily on first responders, as well as farm, factory and service workers.
Their families live in their own war zone. At a recent Minnesota event for military families, I heard Annette Kuyper, the mother of a National Guardsman who had an extended deployment in Iraq, describe how she and other Guard mothers changed their lives while their children were in harm’s way. “We close the blinds on the windows overlooking the driveway,” she said, “so we don’t see the Army vehicle arriving with a chaplain bearing the unbearable news.”
This woman’s son returned safely, but too many do not. As the campaign season careens to an end, military funerals will be held in country burial grounds, big city graveyards and at Arlington National Cemetery. Military families will keep the blinds closed on the windows facing the driveway.
While campaigns trade shouts of witchcraft, socialism, greed, radicalism (on both sides), warriors and their families have a right to ask, “What about us?” If this is an election about a new direction for the country, why doesn’t some candidate speak up for equal sacrifice on the home front as well as the front lines?
This is not just about military families, as important as they are. We all would benefit from a campaign that engaged the vexing question of what happens next in the long and so far unresolved effort to deal with Islamic rage.
No decision is more important than committing a nation to war. It is, as politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure. Surely blood and treasure are worthy of more attention than they’ve been getting in this campaign.
Tom Brokaw, a special correspondent for NBC News, is the author, most recently, of “Boom! Talking About the ’60s.”