Few seem connected to war

April 30, 2007 | By Tom Hintgen

“If we closed our eyes to TV and newspapers, most of us could get through the day without knowing there was a war in Iraq,” CBS Sunday morning Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer said. “When I was a child, every American knew about World War II.”

Schieffer, an Air Force veteran and former Pentagon correspondent for CBS, vividly recalls World War II when food, gasoline and clothing items were rationed. Americans also paid increased taxes to pay for the war and purchased war bonds to support the troops overseas.

“Today, the war in Iraq is being fought by an all-volunteer force that accounts for less than one-half of one percent of us,” Schieffer said. “Many of us don’t feel the economic impact since the Iraq war is being fought mostly on borrowed money.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Roadman is part of a distinguished panel of experts investigating the problems at Walter Reed Hospital. What he said earlier this month caught Schieffer’s attention.

One problem, Roadman told The Washington Post, is that Iraq is producing so many casualties. “The nation,” he said, “needs to realize we are at war.”

Schieffer said that World War II was fought mostly by draftees.

“Everyone had a dad or an uncle or cousin or neighbor who was in the war,” Schieffer said. “When food was rationed and taxes were high, every day brought something to remind us we were at war.”

These days, Schieffer said, some Americans may not even know anyone in the military, let alone have a connection.

“Our volunteer military is the best in the world,” he said, “but again, I wonder, should democracies fight wars with an all-volunteer force? Should we ever go to war unless all of us are willing to share the sacrifice?”

One retired general said, “Marines are at war, America is at the mall.”

Conservative think-tank analyst Fred Kagan said that Americans would be willing to sacrifice in real ways, if they were asked.

“I deplore the weakness of the Bush Administration to make it possible for the American people to support its troops,” Kagan said. “It’s one of the worst failures of this administration.”

If it’s not possible to enlist, some say the next best thing is money.

Enter Sen. Joe Lieberman, independent from Connecticut, who has proposed a new tax to raise money for troops. The “Support Our Troops Tax” would raise $50 billion per year over the next five years to pay for defense and veterans benefits and services.

The proposal, coming in the form of an amendment to the fiscal 2008 budget, is what Sen. Lieberman calls the need for a “shared sacrifice.”

“The absence of the social elite—including celebrities, the upper class, and children of politicians—in the military creates the impression that this war isn’t worth fighting,” Northwestern University military sociologist Charles Moskos said. “This is the no-sacrifice war.”

William Strauss, a prominent generational historian and author of 10 books, said the memory of Sept. 11, 2001, is a little distant now.

“I believe it may take another dramatic event before the country is truly galvanized and therefore capable of true sacrifice,” Strauss said. “If we have that, the nature of our nation’s response could surprise us.”

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