We Don’t Feel the Pain of War
According to The Washington Post and their website “Faces of the Fallen,” the United States has lost 6,013 soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What a tragedy.
In an age of voluntary enlistment in our armed services, a small percentage of American families experience the anxiety of seeing a young man or woman sent off to war. Few feel the awful pain of being told that their 20-year old has died serving his or her country.
In fact, most of us feel no pain at all, with the exception of long security lines at airports. Instead of feeling the pain of war and making personal sacrifices so that America can be at war, Americans are encouraged to live life as if nothing is going on out of the ordinary.
In light of the terrorist attack of 9/11, President George W. Bush’s plea to the American people was to shop. "Get down to Disney World in Florida," he told us. "Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed." I understand Bush’s strategy. He wanted to not allow terrorism to disrupt the American consumer’s way of life.
He never raised taxes to actually pay for these wars. In fact, he cut taxes. His administration made sure we were made aware of terrorism (with those long lines at the airports and the multi-colored terrorist threat warnings), but we were intentionally distanced from the wars themselves.
Americans were asked to “support the troops” (who wouldn’t do that?) which meant that we were to salute their sacrifice for our way of life here in America (and not question why we are fighting these wars). But what that actually happened was this: We ended up pretending that we are really not at war. We never felt the economic hardship of having to pay for these wars. We just went to Disney World. We lived in the “World of Make-Believe.”
Face it: War has become just one of those things we do now. We send our volunteer troops all over the world to fight in battles all the time. The average American does not have a say in the matter. Heck, Congress (the ones that are supposed to represent us) doesn’t even have to declare war (as the Constitution mandates) anymore. A president can simply send our troops into harm’s way with his own authority (as long as he can play politics enough to scare members of congress that they’ll be seen as unpatriotic if they resist).
I propose two ways that we can stop our country from fighting in so many wars:
1. Reinstate the Mandatory Draft. While conscription has proved to have a lot of problems (and thus was halted in 1973), if every American had a stake in our country’s choices about war, I think we’d hold our elected officials more accountable. We wouldn’t have such a complacent attitude about war if it wasn’t just those who volunteered to fight who are in harm’s way, but our own sons and daughters.
2. Mandate that All Wars Are Paid For. I find it fascinating that in all the recent debates about budgets and deficits and spending cuts, our leaders almost always skirt around the issue of paying for our war efforts. We hear the call for “PayGo” legislation, where any spending projects must be paid for with tax increases or cuts in spending in other areas. Why not “PayWar” legislation, where any wars that the President feels we must fight must first be paid for with tax increases and/or cuts in other areas?
The website costofwar.com has a running total of the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is a screenshot I took today:
We wonder why we are in the financial mess we’re in now. Look at those numbers! Nearly 1.2 Trillion Dollars spent in the last decade.
And remember that these wars are not a part of the national budget. Remember that the American people were never issued a War Tax to pay for these wars. Remember that War Bonds were never issued for our purchase to fund these wars.
We were just asked to continue our merry way, shopping and consuming, playing and pretending that war has no cost.
Oh, but we would occasionally having patriotic services on Memorial Day for the fallen. That’s good, I suppose.
So, my proposal gets at two of the places where Americans would hurt the most if we are ever to go to war: (1) our families and (2) our bank accounts. Unless we begin to feel real pain, we will continue to see more and more faces of the fallen on The Washington Post’s website.