Damn the New York Times and its bleeping subscription wall — everybody should read Bob Herbert’s column today. I’ll quote some of it.
[Update: I see that the entire column has been posted by the Tennessee Guerilla Women. I appreciate this, but sooner or later the New York Times will send lawyers and make them stop.]
Americans are shopping while Iraq burns.
The competing television news images on the morning after Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Sadr City â€” where more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated car bombs â€” and the long lines of cars filled with holiday shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls that had opened for business at midnight. …
… There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.
Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to the congressmanâ€™s proposal â€” it has long been clear that there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. â€” but the fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war.
What frustrated me was that even some people who acknowledged Rangel’s basic purpose responded with ponderous explanations of why a volunteer army is better than a conscripted army. Of course it is. That’s not the point.
Rangel’s point is that the burden of fighting the war is falling disproportionately on poorer Americans than richer ones. Whether the draft is the way to make things equitable is debatable, however. As Katha Pollitt writes,
Supporters of the draft are using it to promote indirectly politics we should champion openly and up front. It’s terrible that working-class teenagers join the Army to get college funds, or job training, or work–what kind of nation is this where Jessica Lynch had to invade Iraq in order to fulfill her modest dream of becoming an elementary school teacher and Shoshanna Johnson had to be a cook on the battlefield to qualify for a culinary job back home? But the solution isn’t to force more people into the Army, it’s affordable education and good jobs for all. Nobody should have to choose between risking her life–or as we see in Abu Ghraib, her soul–and stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. By the same token, threatening our young with injury, madness and death is a rather roundabout way to increase resistance to military adventures. I’d rather just loudly insist that people who favor war go fight in it themselves or be damned as showboaters and shirkers. I’m sure the Army can find something for Christopher Hitchens to do.
To me, however, the point is not about equitably sharing the burden of fighting. The point is that there’s something obscenely decadent about a nation that can perpetrate a war outside its borders as casually as you might order pizza.
With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. …
… This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name. While shoppers here are scrambling to put the perfect touch to their holidays with the purchase of a giant flat-screen TV or a PlayStation 3, the news out of Baghdad is of a society in the midst of a meltdown.
I say the draft is not enough. In fact, I’ve thought up a whole new way to get the nation to pay attention to what it’s perpetrating — The Civilian War Footing Act. The Act’s provisions would kick in automatically whenever U.S. troops are involved in a military action lasting more than 30 days or in which even one U.S. soldier, marine, or sailor has died.
The Civilian War Footing Act could reinstate the draft, whether it’s needed or not. The military could choose not to accept any conscripts it really doesn’t need or want, but perhaps we could require that conscripts at least report for a physical. Make ’em think about it, in other words. But here are the more important provisions:
Gas rationing would kick in automatically, needed or not; anyone who burns more than a tank a week is going to have to be inconvenienced. Taxes would increase across the board to pay for the war’s actual cost. On top of that, at least one hour of prime-time television programming would be pre-empted every evening for either war news or a bond drive telethon. This pre-emption would be random, so that you’d never know if your favorite program will be on or not.
Every citizen between the age of 18 and 75 (not already in the military or subject to the military draft) would be subject to a national lottery. The “winners” would be required to report for duty at a military hospital to care for the wounded, or unload and accompany coffins to the soldier’s families. The period of service could be short — two to four weeks –but no exemptions except for serious health issues would be allowed. Only a small part of the civilian population would ever be called, but the fact that it could happen to anyone ought to weigh on peoples’ minds.
(I thought about using voter registration rolls for the lottery, but decided that might discourage voting. The patriotic duty deadbeats who don’t even bother to vote ought not be given a pass.)
The purpose of the Civilian War Footing Act is to be a big, fat, stinky foot in civilian faces: Pay attention. There’s a war going on in your name and with your implied consent. Are you OK with this?
Bob Herbert continues,
Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore. They warrant may be one sentence in a long roundup article out of Baghdad, or a passing reference â€” no longer than a few seconds â€” in a television news account of the latest political ditherings.
Since the vast majority of Americans do not want anything to do with the military or the war, the burden of fighting has fallen on a small cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been maimed.
The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support.
They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.
I don’t think most of these people are “bad” people. They’re spoiled; they’re indifferent; they’re clueless. Many of them probably don’t think there’s anything they can do to stop the war (Democracy? What’s that?) so they tune it out.
But the provisions of The Civilian War Footing Act will see to it they can’t tune it out. And if a majority of Americans don’t want to be inconvenienced, they have to stop the war. And the politicians who started the bleeping war had better have a bleeping good excuse, or their careers are over.
I’d like to think that if the U.S. faced a genuine threat, Americans would respond and do whatever it took, as long as it took, to save our country. But starting a war is a serious matter that requires serious consideration. I would have thought that, after Vietnam, the nation would know better than to allow itself to be railroaded into another foreign quagmire, but here we are again.
Clearly, we need to learn to think twice about war. And if the alleged threat is more hypothetical than imminent, then let’s learn to just say no.