In Tennessee, a mother was suspended by her employer for taking a phone call from her son serving in Afghanistan. The company has since made several weak attempts to salvage its image; but as Jake Wood points out, this incident is only a symptom of a greater and growing problem. Too many people no longer want to care about the men and women of the armed forces, or about those who daily pray for their safe return.
This year, the country will mark an anniversary too many Americans want to ignore: a decade at war. A growing number of people want to push the combat in Afghanistan and Iraq to the furthest margins of the public's attention. Yet, in seeking the comfort that this sort of intentional forgetfulness brings, Americans also ignore the sacrifice rendered by the members of their armed forces, and neglect the needs of the loved ones who await them at home.
In a counterintuitive way, those who serve in uniform are seen less as making a sacrifice, and more as taking advantage of an opportunity. Because they have volunteered to fill the ranks of the armed forces, the men and women fighting on foreign soil are given less respect because, simply, "they chose to be there." Rather than finding a greater nobility in this voluntary commitment, far too many see it as mere opportunism, or even as accepting an option of last-resort from the government. This faulty logic leads inexorably to the final, shameful view that this nation's veterans are a liability rather than an asset.
When that sort of jaundiced eye is turned on those in uniform, the regard accorded to the families they leave on these shores is diminished even more greatly. If a son wanted to fight in Afghanistan, why should his mother fret so unnecessarily about his safety -- "he chose to be there." It is as though a sacrifice willingly undertaken somehow diminishes the anguish of those who know their loved ones have approached great danger, yet can do nothing for them but hope and pray.
The civilian and military leadership has done little to help reverse this creeping loss of respect and concern. Those who work in the Capitol and the Pentagon have little to gain by championing a conflict with no clear goals and no definition of victory. Indeed, it is to their advantage that much of the American populace has forgotten about their feckless commitment to an open-ended war. So they pay perfunctory respect at military funerals, mouth appropriate platitudes about some meaningless concept of freedom and some ill-defined notion of liberty, and thereby push concern for thousands of American sons and daughters in combat to the furthest reaches of their own and the public's cognizance.
This insult hurts those here at home much more than those stationed around the world. Mothers and fathers, husbands and wives experience the encroaching indifference of their fellow Americans much more than those actively engaged in protecting America's safety and welfare. Those who wait on these shores with nothing more than an occasional call or letter, and a constant feeling of fear and emptiness are stung by the utter lack of concern shown for their loved ones serving bravely overseas.
In a different war, in a more desperate time, all Americans were called upon to contribute in very concrete ways to the country's struggle. This had the effect of connecting those at home with those overseas. Small sacrifices on these shores, planting victory gardens, saving chicken fat, and buying war bonds, reminded everyone of the great sacrifices being made in foreign lands. This unity of purpose gave strength to those in combat as well as to those who lost loved ones to the war, whether for a year or for an eternity.
This war is different. These times are not desperate. All Americans should be mightily thankful for that. Irrespective of how anyone feels about current conflicts, or the very nature of war in general, all Americans should feel a tremendous debt of gratitude for those who volunteer to serve in the armed forces.
In simple ways, with small gestures, Americans can turn back the creeping tide of indifference. Even modest acts of kindness and consideration extended to those waiting for a son or daughter, husband or wife to come safely home, serve to strengthen the resolve and courage of those in combat. Every small sacrifice and gesture of support joins those of us in this land with those of our brothers and sisters who fight for us in another.
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