Want to support the troops? Share their sacrifice.
MENOMONEE FALLS, WIS. — For many reasons I resented being in the US Army during the Vietnam War, but topping the list was the essential inequality of it all. For one thing, the draft itself was openly unequal and unfair, particularly before the shift to the lottery system.
I am not the only ex-soldier to resent that some of my contemporaries, such as Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, avoided military service, or that others, such as President Bush, ducked into the (then) relative safety of the National Guard and Reserves.
Still, draft dodgers were not the main cause of my resentment. No, what griped me was something more basic than an unwillingness to serve one's country when called. It was the country's unwillingness to share – in even a small way – the sacrifice of those it called to service.
Not that my personal "sacrifice" was notably great. I gave merely three years to military service, not life or limb. After 10 months of rigorous infantry training I was sent, not to Vietnam, as I fully expected, but to West Germany. I, of course, did not challenge that decision of my military superiors.
But what I continually saw from the first day of basic training until the day I left the Army as a free man was that we soldiers and our civilian fellow citizens were not in this together. While US soldiers faced disrupted lives, economic hardship, long separations, danger, dismemberment, and death, the rest of the citizenry did not so much as have their gasoline rationed, or go without butter or even the latest-model automobile.
A few years back, the comedian and political commentator Bill Maher published a book, "When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden." Its title and dust jacket echoed a World War II poster that declared, "When you ride alone you ride with Hitler!"
The point more than 60 years ago was that every gallon of gasoline saved through carpooling was a gallon that could be used to fight our enemies. That same point is valid today.
Every gallon of gasoline that we do not import – through conservation or through development of alternative sources of energy – lessens our dependence on antagonistic oil-rich regimes and reduces the threat from terrorists such as Osama bin Laden who are supported by those regimes.
To me, however, the point is valid in the more basic way I've mentioned. We are not asked, as we were in the 1940s, to sacrifice or share the burden, even though, as then, doing so would help get the job done. Rosie the Riveter apparently is not a "today" kind of gal.
The situation is better today than in the 1960s and '70s in that we honor our troops rather than deride them. But we still do not share their – and their families' – burden.
Why are we Americans not asked – or told – to pay higher prices for gasoline now in order to reduce or even eliminate gasoline's necessity later? Or to drive more fuel-efficient vehicles? Or to pay for this war now, and not put the sacrifice of paying down the debt on a later generation? Or to immediately begin funding the mounting medical costs of our returning wounded veterans?
Does the US government not ask Americans to pitch in because it would infringe on our personal and business liberties and raise our taxes?
World War II "infringements" included essentially halting all private-vehicle production, rationing of gasoline and food, conscription, funding the war through war bonds (now there's a concept), and higher taxes. Americans grumbled but accepted that the measures were appropriate for the times. Now that's supporting the troops.
If, as the president has averred, this is an all-out world war on terrorism, why are we not all asked to fight it? The answer, of course, has to do in part with the pretenses that led to the Iraq war and its disputable connection to the larger war on terrorism.
We don't need to reinstate the draft or make the same sacrifices as Americans did in World War II to fight today's world war on terrorism. We only have to share the burden of our men and women in uniform by shouldering relatively minimal civilian costs and inconveniences. I have a feeling that, as in World War II, we are up to the task.
Too bad we aren't asked.
• Roger K. Miller, a freelance writer, reviewer, and editor, declines to put magnets on his car in support of his son and son-in-law in the US military.