Admit it. You go through your entire day without once thinking about our young men and women fighting and often dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. As they are not part of the fabric of our everyday lives, they are invisible. They don't exist. They don't count.
As we wake in the mornings, roll out of our warm beds, get kids ready for school, head to the office, plan our weekends and fall asleep in front of our televisions, countless American troops are exposed to the elements, barely sleeping in half-hour spurts lying on the cold dirt while wedged behind irregular rock walls, on the lookout for IEDs, land mines, snipers and guerrillas, and more and more wondering, "What's the point?"
A friend of mine who just back from a second tour in Iraq recently told me, "I honestly don't think anyone cares about us. The media has now decided that Iraq doesn't even exist. Politicians from both sides of the aisle use us as cheap expendable pawns. What am I supposed to tell my children I'm fighting for?"
For the folks I speak with from the military, it really has come down to, "Let us go big or let us come home." They are horrified with the thought that they are fighting and dying for nothing. Absolutely nothing.
They want a president and Congress who can clearly define a mission -- any mission -- and then give them the troops, tools and moral certitude needed to complete that mission. What they don't want, and fear is happening across the board, is to have politicians back home make battlefield decisions based on the 2010 and 2012 elections. They look upon such selfish partisan interests as a betrayal of their sacrifice. They are heroically putting their lives on the line and need it to mean more than a passing political advantage for one party over the other.
My friend back from Iraq says that as the president and Congress waffle, hedge and backtrack on battlefield decisions, those we are fighting against in Iraq and Afghanistan sense an advantage. They don't believe the will of the U.S. government or its citizens is behind the U.S. troops they confront. They believe they can continue to pick off our troops one or 10 at a time, wait them out and then watch them head home with nothing to show for their pain and effort.
Since World War II, it can be argued that we have sent our young men and women into harm's way for politically expedient or not completely thought-out reasons. Too often of late, the decision to send our young to war has been made by those who never served, who sought continuous deferments or who never left the safety of the United States while serving.
For instance, when discussing former President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, director Oliver Stone -- a decorated combat veteran who has earned his point of view -- said:
If Bush had spent three months in combat, he would take a whole different view of war. He wouldn't be so light. And that includes Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. They're tough guys, but combat softens you, if anything. It makes you more aware of human frailty and vulnerability. It doesn't make you a coward, but it does teach you. If any of those guys had seen combat, I don't think we would have had this gratuitous decision to go to Iraq, which has cost us greatly.
While Mr. Stone may think differently now that Barack Obama is in the White House, his point is still well taken. Military service or combat experience is not a prerequisite for the Oval Office or Congress. That said, understanding the true horror and cost of war is invaluable to the decision-making process.
This is not a partisan issue. With regard to Iraq, many I know from the military strongly feel that their bosses got rolled or big-footed by Mr. Rumsfeld, by his nonmilitary advisers with PhDs and by Dick Cheney's office. Many feel the same mistakes and lack of respect for their service and their very lives is being replicated by the Obama administration when it comes to Afghanistan.
As you read this from the comfort of your home or office, an American soldier is literally freezing in the mountains of Afghanistan, sitting in the sights of the enemy or about to get blown up. For what?
These young men and women are not invisible. They are not political pawns. They are our sons, our daughters, our neighbors and our friends.
More than that, they are our saviors. Shouldn't they matter?
Douglas MacKinnon, a novelist, is a former White House and Pentagon official who also served as press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole.