I’m old enough to remember the home front during World War II. I was in elementary school when it started and in high school when it ended. My most striking memories of the war were about how everyone in the country was involved in the war in one way or another. Most men were serving in the military. Women took factory jobs to replace them. Gasoline, sugar, meat and other items were rationed, and we could not buy them without having our ration cards punched. Automobile tires were completely unobtainable?rubber was needed for the war effort.
My father hung onto every newscast, always worried about my three brothers, Tom, a Marine serving in the Pacific; Albert, serving as an infantry grunt in the Pacific as well; and Chick, who was a combat engineer in the Battle of the Bulge.
It would have been hard to imagine that WWII would have gone on for ten years. Because of the total involvement of the war back then, the public would not have stood for it.
Why is it, then, that the Afghanistan War is now in its tenth year, with hardly a voice raised in protest. Oh, yes, now there are a few people who occasionally are heard to object to the amount of money and the loss of life and of many limbs of our soldiers, but those protests are hardly broadcast in our national media.
I believe the answer to the question of, “why?” lies in how both the Bush and Obama Administrations have chosen to fight the war. They have made sure that only the smallest percentage of people become really involved in the Afghan War. The families of the 100,000 troops who are there of course are worried. But there is no organized group, either of military families or of the usual anti-war crowd to keep our attention centered on the war, no matter how wasteful it has become. There is no rationing, there is no draft, there is no national exertion. The war effort is being bought and paid for by taxpayers, most of whom seem to have little interest in complaining about what is happening.
One reason that protests are muffled is that a large part of the fighting in Afghanistan is being done by private contractors, mercenaries who make a lot of money as private militias?paid for by the U.S. government. Our military is a totally volunteer force?there is no draft to raise the ire of parents. There is no danger for those who have no interest in volunteering for the military. The danger exists only for those who are forced to fight for the money.
It has been a very clever way to hold down any protests over the war. Flatly stated, few people care about what’s happening in Afghanistan and as well, in Iraq, which still has 50,000 U.S. Troops, most of whom are out of harm’s way.
But if Americans have no interest in who is being killed and wounded, perhaps they should care about the hundreds of billions of dollars being poured down the Middle East sink hole. It seems that the arms industry, which eats up a large part of our national income, are unable to hire enough people to bring down the unemployment numbers. But if that money were used to build and to repair America’s infrastructure, enough jobs would be created to bring us out of our economic morass and to eventually erase the deficit which seems to be the only thing about which politicians are concerned.
I should mention that, unlike WWII, there is now no overwhelming tax burden placed on the rich to help pay for the war.
Our wars should be costly to every American individual, with the result that we would not so willingly believe the lies the government tells us in order to get us into them. We should re-institute the draft to get the attention of a large number of parents. We should fire all the mercenary armies we are paying and pay instead the cheaper and the unwilling draftees who would have to fight the wars the politicians are in such a hurry to have someone else fight.
James G. Abourezk is a lawyer practicing in South Dakota. He is a former United States senator and the author of two books, Advise and Dissent, and a co-author of Through Different Eyes. This article runs in the current issue of Washington Report For Middle East Affairs and appears here by permission. Abourezk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.