Different meanings of 'sacrifice'

Sept. 11 plus two was different from Sept. 11 plus one. Fewer tears and fewer flags. And while President Bush commandeered 20 minutes of prime-time television on the preceding Sunday to tell us that the ongoing war on terrorism "will take time and require sacrifices," he still had trouble defining sacrifice in terms other than money - mostly someone else's money.

As one tends to do at my advanced age, I looked back to other presidents who had called on Americans for sacrifice in wartime. After Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt summoned Americans to pay higher taxes and deny themselves creature comforts. During the Korean War, President Truman reimposed wage and price controls that had lapsed after World War II. During the cold war, President Kennedy called on Americans to "pay any price, bear any burden, and meet any hardship in defense of liberty."

And after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush, announcing we were at war - a "different kind of war" - instructed Americans, in a speech to Congress: "Live your lives and hug your children." At a subsequent news conference, he spoke of sacrifice as suffering long lines at airports. Indeed, a different kind of war effort - an effort that includes voluntary shopping to keep the economy going.

So, sacrifice is now defined as an extra $87 billion to secure and rebuild Iraq, including a little for still struggling Afghanistan. It is not clear who makes that sacrifice. With the post-Labor Day start of the precampaign season, the issue has immediately taken on a partisan tinge. Democrats would withhold tax deductions from millionaires.

The administration says that would be the wrong kind of sacrifice because it would put a damper on the still shaky economy.

And, meanwhile, some who would define sacrifice in terms of service to the community will not get the chance. In his State of the Union address last year, the president called for boosting the Ameri-Corps program from 50,000 to 75,000 volunteers. But Congress has not appropriated the money to make that happen.

Here's a quote for you as we get into the year Sept. 11 plus three:

"Here at home everyone will have the privilege of making whatever self-denial is necessary."

That was the president - President FDR, that is - in his 1942 speech titled, "Call to Sacrifice."

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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