PORTLAND, ORE. — I should have written this column a long time ago. It's embarrassing to admit, but I allowed myself to believe that a preposterous situation was normal until a voice in my head suddenly exclaimed, "Hey, wait a minute!"
Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing heroic work in conditions that most Americans can't even imagine. So why has the Pentagon exacerbated the hardship by allowing a two-tier payment system to develop in this conflict?
I'm talking about the fact that members of the US military can look out the windows of their Humvees on street patrol and see passing SUVs driven by private security contractors earning salaries that dwarf the average pay of GI Joe and Jane.
A recent PBS Frontline documentary reported that some employees of Blackwater Security are making up to $1,000 per day in Iraq.
Why not just line up our soldiers, slap every one in the face and say, "Numskull! You joined the wrong organization!"
The funds required for securing and stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan are coming mostly from American taxpayers like me. I'm willing to pay whatever it takes to fight terror, but I think I'm justified in demanding that nobody wearing "the boots on the ground" should get paid more than our men and women in uniform.
Everyone who has one of those "Support Our Troops" magnets on the family car should immediately demonstrate that support by calling their congressional representatives and demanding that American troops stop getting the short end of the stick in the war against terror.
There's not enough room here for a detailed plan, but I'm sure Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has plenty of number crunchers who can rearrange the flow of reimbursement funds.
By the way, Mr. Secretary, when you made that statement about "going to war with the Army you've got," it would have been more honest to add "and whatever freelancers you need to hire along the way for jobs that the Army decides to outsource."
I hope nobody tries to tell me Congress doesn't have time to tackle this issue.
Of course it does. The House, Senate, and president worked at warp speed to pass a bill giving federal judges authority to review the case of a comatose woman in Florida.
Has anyone in Washington got the nerve to call a press conference and announce that equitable pay for our troops is less important than Terry Schiavo's feeding tube?
We're going to be in Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time. Our troops should never be treated - or paid - as second-rate warriors. Some budget-watchers may say we can't afford to give them a better deal. I say we can't afford not to.
• Jeffrey Shaffer writes about media, American culture, and personal history.