My kids have grown up in a country that has always been at war.
By Carl Petersen
“If you grew up in the sixties, you grew up with war on TV every night. A war that your friends were involved in...I want to do this song tonight for all the young people out there, if you’re in your teens. ‘Cause I remember a lot of my friends when we were 17 or 18 we didn’t have much of a chance to think about how we thought about a lot of things...the next time they’re going to be looking at you and you’re going to need a lot of information to know what you’re going to want to do. Because in 1985 blind faith in your leaders or in anything will get you killed.”
-Bruce Springsteen, introduction to “War” (1)
The eighties were a time for America to get its footing back. War, social change and economic difficulties had taken their toll and the country sought stability. We found this steadiness in a grandfatherly president and his promise that it was morning again in America. But as Billy Joel would say, “You know the good ole days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” (2) The man with his finger on the nuclear button was on the cusp of developing Alzheimer's and he did not change the way things were done as much as he changed the way that they were marketed. Dealing with our war weariness was just one example.
After the Marine barracks were bombed in Beirut, Reagan faced hard choices. If he reinforced our troops, he would risk starting us on an ill-defined path towards a new extended conflict. However, pulling out after being attacked might show that we had not progressed very far from the national embarassment of the Iranian hostage crisis and failed rescue attempt. Two days later our troops invaded Grenada. Nobody could call us weak since we had won the last war we fought. Even better, when the battle only lasts two days there is little chance of building a peace movement. War was back on the table as long as it did not take too long.
For nearly 20 years presidents used this same formula of imposing our military will in places like Libya, Panama (twice), Iraq and Haiti without interfering with the daily lives of the American people. Sometimes our intentions were pure or mostly so. Other times we showed the diplomatic finesse of a guerrilla performing delicate surgery. In any case, we the people really never had a chance to question the motives of our leaders. For better or worse, this method of conducting war may have been the biggest casualty of the attacks on September 11.
Nothing brings the American people together better than a common enemy and the repeated replay of the falling towers drove a national thirst for revenge. The problem was that we were not attacked by a country but by nationless terrorists. Most of the killers were from Saudi Arabia and that country is our ally. However, Afghanistan was harboring the Al Qaeda terrorists, so that country presented an inviting target. This was only enhanced by the barbaric human rights abuses attributed to the Taliban. Before the attack on our shores, those had been ignored by our government but provided a useful story line when promoting war. Trapped in a mindset that led us to believe that wars never last too long, we headed into battle without considering what we would do after we succeeded or even what success entailed. The result was the longest war in American history.
Unlike Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan has not been allowed to intrude into our daily lives. Even with more options for news sources, crime stories, celebrities and politics get more coverage than our soldiers who risk their lives in our name. The Bush administration would not even allow the press to cover the return of our fallen soldiers. Without a draft, many of us do not personally know someone who is serving. When the Armed Forces could not get enough volunteers, they simply forced existing soldiers to serve beyond their original contracts. We were not even asked to pay for the war, it was just another expenditure placed on the country’s credit card as taxes were cut.
As we head into another Olympic games, NBC hopes that we will be swept into the biannual wave of patriotic spirit. But real patriotism should be more than rooting for athletes or wearing a red, white and blue lapel pin. Supporting our troops should not only include thanking them for their service but holding the politicians who send them into harm's way responsible for their actions. We cannot do that if we allow ourselves to remain untouched by the effects of war.
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