I wrote on Facebook this morning: "My 9/11 observance is to love my soldier, to count my blessings, and to walk free in the sunlight. That feels about right."
As I write this, Theo has been in the Army 16 months, nearly half of his 33-month commitment. Most days I don't feel like an Army wife, only a lonely one. I still live where we always lived. When I visit my husband, we stay in his off-post apartment, he stays in his civvies (albeit with that distinctively Army haircut, the High Fade), and we spend the lion's share of our time in civilian spaces. I have never attended an FRG meeting, never met his commanding officer, never shopped for groceries at a commissary, never experienced a battalion sendoff or welcome-home event.
My husband is Army, but my life is civilian. And in a pecular way, that parallels the national condition: We are a country at war, a civilian population at peace.
In this strange Army-yet-not existence, I can't help but notice that we live in a nation where our tenth year at war merits fewer headlines than the latest drunken escapades of the Jersey Shore cast or the latest catfight on Real Housewives. Where supporting our troops is a bumper sticker or a lapel pin, not a personal sacrifice. Where the biggest debate about our decade-long occupation of foreign lands is its impact on the federal deficit, not the blood it has shed or the virulent new enemies it has bred.
1% of the population lives (and dies) the consequences of a decade of war. 99% of the population doesn't even have to think about it for days, weeks, even months at a time, except to complain about its price tag--the kind of price measured in dollar signs, not crosses at Arlington Cemetery.
How wrong that feels. How immoral.
When Theo joined the Army, I made peace with his decision--and oh, the irony of that expression!--by telling myself that it is important that we have an all-volunteer military, not a draft. That if men like Theo did not serve willingly, someone else's son, husband, brother, or father would have to serve unwillingly. No one should be forced to serve their country, I thought. No one should be conscripted into a service that may require their very life.
I still believe that. I fiercely believe it.
And yet. And yet. 10 years into this war, I cannot help but wonder: If draft lottery numbers were again being read on national TV, might not this war be likelier to end? If a Congressman's son or a Fortune 500 CEO's son could at any moment be drafted to bleed and die in Iraq or Afghanistan, would we still be there?
I also cannot help wondering: How "willing" are many of our volunteer military, in a nation where the unemployment rate still stands at more than 9%? In a ruined economy, it's as likely to be a paycheck as patriotism that leads someone's steps to the recruiter's office. Or health insurance: 39-Year-Old Joins Army to Save Wife's Life.
More than twice as many American lives have been lost in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars than died on 9/11. More than 6,000 and still counting. The American injured number in the tens of thousands. The Iraqi and Afghanistan civilian dead, in the hundreds of thousands. Civilian injured, perhaps in the millions.
Enough. Enough. By even the most bloodthirsty measure of justice or vengeance, enough.
I seem to remember hearing of young men enlisting in the National Guard during the Vietnam era to avoid being drafted into the Regular Army.
The thing is...I mean, you hear about things that happened in Afghanistan under the Taliban pre-9/11 -- Women accused of adultery being shot in packed stadiums and other such horrors -- and I think, what short of an armed invasion would stop things like that? Or, to look at it another way: what short of World War II would have stopped the Holocaust? The only real difference between Nazi Germany and the Taliban is, possibly, a matter of scale. And it wasn't the murder of six million Jews that brought the U.S. into World War II; it was Pearl Harbor -- which was roughly analogous to 9/11. If 9/11 hadn't happened, there would probably still be women being shot in packed stadiums in Afghanistan. And Americans, not just the rich ones, would mostly be oblivious to it at best, indifferent at worst. And isn't that at least part of the reason Al Qaida attacked us in the first place? Of course, now we're neither oblivious nor indifferent (though your Jersey Shore comment is a sad one), and they don't like us any better. And yet, though you can argue against the invasion of Iraq, and against the use of torture, I think the invasion of Aghanistan itself was necessary, as necessary as America's entry into World War II. And I've read about soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who say they wish the media would report more on the good things they are doing there. Because they *are* doing some good.
"If a Congressman's son or a Fortune 500 CEO's son could at any moment be drafted to bleed and die in Iraq or Afghanistan, would we still be there?"
I seem to remember hearing of some Congressman's son currently serving in the military, though I can't remember the name off the top of my head. But that's probably the exception that proves the rule. Personally, I would suggest that military service be mandatory before one runs for the Senate/the House/the White House. But that doesn't seem likely to happen either.
Your husband has my respect, Jaye. I wish both of you luck.
I agree 100% that we had just and strategic reasons to attack Afghanistan. (Iraq is another story.) Whether we can justify being there for a decade and beyond? A much tougher call.
But we cannot rewrite history to kid ourselves--and I note that you have no illusions on this score--that we went into Afghanistan to right wrongs for the Afghan people. We didn't. I only hope that when we leave there, ultimately, we can say we did more good than ill for that country and our own. That we have made more friends than enemies. I hope so. But I can't say I feel confident it will be so.
The gist of my long post, though, is not to judge whether these were "just" wars, but rather to make the case that it is unhealthy and perhaps immoral for the general populace to be able to live as though there were no war. It's as though we have appointed surrogates to wage war in our name, and then forgotten them to go blithely about our business. Aimed a weapon...fired it...then turned our backs, not bothering to see whether it struck its target or not.
Oh, we feel it in the economy. But curiously I think the average American makes a much closer correlation between the banking/housing crisis and the economic decline than between the cost of two wars and the economic decline.
The average American has no skin in the game, is how someone (it may have been Dan Rather?) described it on MPR yesterday. Americans have not paid so much as a nickel in war tax, he noted, while the nation borrows *billions*. Very different from WWII, when there were shortages, rationing, a call for real sacrifices on the homefront to aid the war effort.
Instead, we get called upon to keep spending to boost the civilian economy. That's our call to action! The new patriotism: pulling out your charge card.