Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shared Sacrifice

Republican governors are fond of spreading the myth that they are addressing states’ budget crises by imposing “shared sacrifice.” These lies are transparent to everyone when we see that millionaires and corporations are paying little of no tax, while the middle class “shares” the burden alone.

But today, there’s another area where shared sacrifice is sorely needed. That’s in the prosecution of the ill-advised wars of choice in the Middle East. Not only do the poor and middle class pay a disproportionate portion of the financial cost of the war, but they also are burdened with a disproportionate portion of the human suffering.

Columnist Mark Shields conducted a survey at the start of the Iraq War to determine the number of sons and daughters of congresspeople who were in the enlisted ranks of the armed forces. Not surprisingly, the answer was one - a son of Democratic South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. It’s a lot easier for Congress to approve a war when they have no personal stake in its brutality.

People enlist in the volunteer military for many reasons. I’m sure there are thousands serving the nation today because of patriotism, altruism, and a desire to give something back to America - even if these wars are unnecessary. They deserve our gratitude and support, both during their time of enlistment, and (if they are lucky) after they come home to care for any physical and mental injuries they received on the battlefield. But in today’s economy, many are enlisting in the “volunteer” army because that institution is the employer of last resort. We are creating jobs for Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq instead of in the homeland, and we are spending education dollars to train young men and women to kill and destroy instead of training them to heal and build.

The only fair way to impose a truly shared sacrifice would be a reinstatement of the draft. Not the draft of the Viet Nam era, but a draft of all - men and women, straight and gay, and all but the most infirm. The new draft would require two years of service - either in the military or in the community, to be determined by the combination of a lottery and an individual’s physical abilities. And as a reward for this two years of service, draftees should receive free tuition at a college, trade school, or other institution that would prepare them for a post-service career - a wonderful investment in this country and its people.

The war in Viet Nam was ill-advised, but not nearly as much as today’s wars in the Middle East. That war lasted far too long, and the anti-war protests were finally able to convince the powerful to bring the troops home. There are no anti-war protests of the same scale today because today’s youth has no skin in the game. Today’s wars have lasted so long that we are becoming immune to reports of carnage and the deaths of Americans, Iraqis and Afghans.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced a resolution to bring all troops back from Afghanistan by 2014. This is a good start. Citizens should use their congresspeople’s support of this resolution as a litmus test for their votes.

Bring back the possibility of sending all kids to a war zone - those of the elite as well as those who enlist in the employer of last resort - and then we can have an honest debate on the necessity of these wars.

1 comment:

  1. OK, I don't get it. The Vietnam war resulted in roughly 58,000 American deaths and the extinction of the ally we were supporting. The Iraq war to date has resulted in roughly 4,300 American deaths and at least the possibility of a free and democratic Iraq. Regardless of what you think of the wisdom/folly of Iraq, how can it possibly be more ill-advised than Vietnam?