Sunday, November 11, 2007

The hard bargain

Asking soldiers (and yes, by soldiers I mean Army soldiers, Marines, sailors, and Air Force personnel) to risk death, maiming, disability, and inevitable trauma in the service of the United States is a deadly serious request, never to be done lightly. To protect our Constitution, we ask men and women to surrender the rights they would normally have to choose for themselves, to speak freely, and to avail themselves of civilian legal remedies. We ask them to put on hold their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

The Bushists asked this of our soldiers in Iraq without conscience and largely without experience. They went to war as if they were opening a marketing campaign, not a military one that would have human beings kill and be killed. The Bushists were despicable in this and still are.

Yet military defense remains a necessity in a dangerous world. What, then, are the circumstances under which civilian leadership may honorably choose to risk the lives of soldiers? What do we the citizens of America owe our soldiers as sacred duties before, during, and after every war?

Before war, we owe our soldiers (and our civilians) a fair and open debate on the merits of going to war. In most circumstances, those merits are poor, as they were in the drumbeat for Iraq, especially when there remained effective and progressing alternatives to invasion. War is a last resort has to be real, not lip service.

When political opinion is manipulated by unreasoning fear and anger into lashing out, the results are predictably poor. The nation must air the facts soberly and honestly. Afterward, a supermajority must still favor war.

During war, we owe our soldiers a fair allocation of the risks of fighting. This means that sending the civilian population to the malls to shop is out of hand not enough. A politician who is willing to risk your son but not his own is not a man (or woman) to follow to war. A politician who refuses to ask sacrifice of America as a whole deserves impeachment for that alone.

A good benchmark of the real need for war is the willingness of the government to draft soldiers into the war without favoritism. For Iraq, we have had no general draft at all; for Vietnam, we had a working class draft that the affluent and well-connected could and did escape, Duhbya and Darth of course included. If the nation is really at risk to a degree that justifies war, compulsory service has to be an acknowledged possibility at the outset.

If war is really important for our safety, we must pay for it honestly to the degree possible not leave it to our children to pay for. Obviously, some accrual of debt is probably inevitable in a major war, but the political tactic of extreme deficit financing used by both LBJ and Duhbya are an inducement to fight without sufficient justification.

After war, the nation owes the men and women who fought our gratitude, no matter the result or the political climate. The soldiers did not make the grand decisions, but they risked all for us, even if in retrospect the cause might not have been just.

Our gratitude cannot solve every problem that a returned veteran may have, but we should in every case sign up for this:

  • Health care for physical and mental injuries for the rest of their lives
  • Recognition and recompense for the disabilities that every war causes
  • Pensions that keep body and soul together
  • Family support that recognizes the cost of war borne by the families of those who serve
Last, of course, we owe our veterans perennial honor on days like today. History may little note nor long remember what we say, but we should say it anyway.

Update: Thanks to Philosoraptor host Winston Smith, there's a discussion of this post here.

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