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Sacrifice in a Time of War

Last week President Bush humbly and movingly announced that to show his “solidarity” with our troops fighting in the Middle East he would refrain from playing golf. The magnanimity of the act, evocative as it is of our nation’s long tradition of noblesse oblige, speaks for itself. Wartime sacrifice is an honored part of American life, as the millions who have served in America’s wars, no matter how foolhardy, will attest. The president has rightfully placed himself in their ranks, figuratively speaking of course.

The gracious gesture has inspired many prominent and privileged persons to emulate it. Secretary of State Rice has announced that she will reduce the number of diplomatic galas she attends and photo ops she grants after flying to foreign capitals and engaging in fruitless dialogs with world leaders. Vice President Cheney has nobly opted to forego hunting for the duration, though some observers claim he was having trouble finding people to accompany him on such outings. An unfortunate effect has been declining sales of engraved, inlaid Krieghoffs and Ugartecheas. Secretary of Defense Gates has perhaps gone the furthest: he recently cancelled a falconry contest with the Sultan of Brunei. “It just wouldn’t be right,” Mr Gates stated. “It’d make me look like that prince in Syriana – or worse, like Matt Damon.”

Declining attendance at polo matches and yachting regattas signals that America’s upper strata have taken the lead from the scion of one of their own. “Yes, it’s always disappointing not to take in a chukka or two before dinner at the club,” admitted one young man, who modestly asked only to be identified as a Wharton alumnus. “But it’s a grand way to contribute to the war effort without traipsing around hot dusty towns all day. At least I see our soldiers have bottled water now.” He went on to outline how lower-class casualties contributed to the natural selection process.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff could not be reached for comment. They were, according to a DoD spokesman, “on the back nine at Bolling.” He allayed disquiet by pointing out that the generals and admirals had selflessly and with disregard for personal safety eschewed motorized carts and were aided by enlisted personnel who had volunteered for caddy duty in lieu of overseas deployment. Decorations and promotions are pending. The caddies are also being considered for honors.

When a group of veterans was asked to comment on the president’s deed, their responses were astonishingly unrefined and heavily laced with language whose repetition here would run afoul the strict rules of decorum governing the internet. Their surly remarks were intermingled with career recommendations for the children of neo-conservatives, political leaders, and corporate chiefs. One veteran churlishly asked why the president’s new son-in-law was not in the service. (Evidently he didn’t know that Mr Hager will soon have an MBA from a Southern Ivy and thus has other priorities.) Doubtless all PTSD symptoms are not yet fully understood.

Of course, no sooner had the president made his moving statement than cynics condemned it as a vacuous gesture calculated to counter his image of being an insouciant dilettante who had used family influence to dodge the draft during Vietnam and later bungled the nation into another pointless unwinnable war. Alec Baldwin and Barbra Streisand proclaimed that this underscored the need to get rid of Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld.

On a related note, the White House announced the establishment of a strategic reserve for Krieghoffs and Ugartecheas.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is a veteran of the Vietnam War and author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com