Monday, January 26, 2004

The Heavy Lifting
For all the talk coming out of the White House that tries to characterize our unhappy millennium as the 1940s redux--"the good war," when American motives were selfless and our cause was indisputably just--the parallels end almost as soon as the talking does. Syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker gets at one of the most significant differences--that the the sacrifices on the battlefields of Iraq are not equally shared among all segments of American society. It's the children of working class whites and minorities who are doing the heavy lifting--and the dying--in Bush's war.

The citizen-soldier ideal, which was never stronger than during World War II and Korea, is still around as a rhetorical concept, but not as a philosophy to be lived. At the time of the Congressional vote on the war in 2002, one member had a child in the service. The number of non-serving chickenhawks in the high councils of the administration has been widely noted. And it's not just the nation's elite. I'm a typical middle-class guy who has friends with adult children, and there are but two people of my acquaintance who are over there, neither one close.

I have to dispute one point Tucker makes, however. She says, "The deaths of more than 500 American soldiers in Iraq have stirred little comment among the chattering classes, whose children are not at risk." I would submit that the "chattering classes whose children are not at risk"--if that means bloggers and other more conventional pundits--are doing more talking about the casualties than the mainstream media are, and certainly more than a lot of privileged Americans seem to be doing. Those of us who oppose the war greet news of each new death with feelings of outrage and pain. Even those who approve of the war should not dare to be cavalier about the losses, or think of them as part of the cost of doing America's business. The least those of us who are safely cocooned in our privilege can do is to try and comprehend the pain of families who don't have to imagine it. Bush has shown no evidence of doing this, beyond sputtering a few lame platitudes. The rest of us can--must--do better.

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