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Jess Coleman

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Are We Forgetting the Wounds of War?

Posted: 06/08/2012 8:44 am

Mitt Romney never served in the Vietnam War, but in 2007 he said that he had "longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam." That, it seems, would be consistent with his approach to defense: Don't cut the budget -- we need to be the strongest nation on earth.

Yet, in 1994, Romney confessed to what truly happened over 40 years ago: "I was not planning on signing up for the military," he said. In fact, according to a report in The New York Times, Romney avoided military service in Vietnam by seeking and receiving four draft deferments, including a 31-month stretch as a Mormon missionary in France.

But before you use this to paint Romney as a coward or flip-flopper, first ask yourself: If given the chance, would you have acted differently?

In most cases, but certainly not all, the answer would be no. In ironic fashion, Romney has tapped into the striking reality of how we now view war: We are okay with it -- so long as someone else fights it. Even Romney, one of the most outspoken supporters of military strength and spending, went out of his way to avoid the practice he favors so strongly.

That irony extends even further. Of all the 535 members of Congress, only two percent have sons or daughters who have served in Iraq. How is it fair that those who decide whether we go to war or not are also completely unaffected by it?

It wasn't always this way. The draft ensured that the burdens of war were spread across all spectrums of society. It makes sense, then, that when the draft was in place, wars were significantly shorter for the United States: World War I lasted less than two years, World War II lasted less than four years, and the Vietnam War lasted just over eight years. When we were all involved, we did what we had to do, and got out.

Now, however, the stakes are a lot lower. Members of Congress and those in power couldn't care less how long we fight, because they and their kids are safe. Indeed, the two wars the United States has engaged in since the draft was abolished have been the two longest in history. And one is still going on.

Gone are the times when the burdens of war were shared. During the days of Vietnam or World War II, almost everyone could name a close friend or family member who was overseas fighting. Now, most people have trouble naming someone close to them who has fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. For most Americans, war is becoming harder to relate to.

Even in an economic sense, it just no longer feels like we are at war. In the early days of the Bush administration, taxes were cut, marking the first time the United States cut taxes during wartime. Neither our wallets nor our hearts feel the wounds of the war any longer. We are therefore completely content paying for a war to go on for over a decade. If a family member doesn't have to fight and our paychecks don't take a hit, what do we care?

There is no more dangerous path than one that treats war as a burdenless affair. So long as we outsource our grief and pay with our credit card, accountability is nonexistent, and lives will continue to be lost. The next time you hear Governor Romney declare his unquestionable support for our military and its strength, remember that even he wouldn't join the ranks. And it wouldn't hurt to put yourself to the same test.

 

Follow Jess Coleman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jesskcoleman

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