The breaking news about 23 year old Prince Harry secretly being deployed in Afghanistan as a “battlefield air controller” since December created a public sensation in Britain. It also resulted in the quick return home of the Prince–third in line to the British throne–for security reasons.
The episode pointed to the British tradition of expecting the sons of British kings and queens to enter military service during periods when their country is at war.
The same was true during World War II when four of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sons entered the armed forces, as did General Eisenhower’s son, John Eisenhower.
Since the expansion of the number of women in the military, what about George W. Bush’s daughters–Barbara and Jenna? Their father repeatedly describes the war in Iraq as crucially important to protect the United States and to spread democracy in the Middle East. Early on, he called it a “crusade” until his advisers made sure he never mentioned this word again, since it has a special meaning for the Islamic world.
President Bush also repeatedly asserted that the losses of life and the costs of the Iraq war are “worth the sacrifice.” Whose sacrifice? Certainly not that of the family in the White House. There have been no indications in this town of 24/7 gossip of either the parents urging or the daughters considering joining the armed forces.
Recently, a Midwestern mother, who lost her son in Iraq, declared, half weeping, “Why am I planning for a funeral when George W. Bush is planning for a wedding?”
Is this mother being unfair? Or is she reflecting a feeling that there is a double standard operating here? Senator Jim Webb and Senator John McCain, against and for the war respectively, each have a son who has served in Iraq. No double standard for them.
There is a certain moral authority to govern-setting an example-sharing in the sacrifice initiated by the White House–that escapes both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney–both early draft dodgers who were gung-ho for the Vietnam war so long as someone else in their age group was doing the fighting. They both have children who have declined to serve during the Iraq war-occupation.
It would be a different question if the Bush and Cheney offspring had come out publicly against the war or were conscientious objectors. No signs of these positions thus far.
Although Bush and Cheney register very low in the polls; they were re-elected in 2004, with some help from Republican voting shenanigans in Ohio. It was already known that both Bush and Cheney were against full Medicare for all Americans, against raising the minimum wage to 1968 levels, adjusted for inflation, against a decent budget for investment in public housing, against defending the pensions of millions of workers from the erosions and crimes of their corporate bosses.
Yet both Bush and Cheney received a big pay increase from a big tax cut for the wealthy President Bush signed that included their total investment income and salary. They live in exquisite public housing, with great pensions and marvelous health insurance.
This double standard between the political rulers and the ruled extends to Congress as a whole and mirrors the double standards between corporate executives and their workers.
There is a simple safeguard regarding the decision to make war while leaving the younger adult sons and daughters of Congress and the White House enjoying civilian life as the casualties and illnesses of the “other Americans” keep mounting in counted and deliberately uncounted ways,
Ask your member of Congress to introduce a one page bill that says the following: Whenever Congress and the White House take our country to war, all able-bodied military-age children of every member of Congress, the President and the Vice-President will be conscripted automatically into the armed forces.
That simple law will generate deliberations containing relevant, accurate information and assumption of proper constitutional responsibilities by the Congress and the President.
When politicians’ children are required to go off to war, it tends to concentrate their minds toward waging peace before waging false pretense wars.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions