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Iraq and Afghanistan: America's invisible wars

After seven years in Iraq and nine in Afghanistan, residents of York, Pa., talk about how the wars have become like a screen saver: always there but rarely acknowledged.

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Some of the students from her school have also chosen to enlist, knowing the near certainty of being deployed to a combat zone. "To those kids, the war is immediate and tangible," Mrs. Trebilcock says, "but I don't think most people get it."

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To her, America's detachment from its wars demonstrates what she feels is a lack of backbone in the country, an unwillingness to make sacrifices for a greater good, either at home or abroad. "We are," she says, "spineless creatures."

Daniel Meckley III, a retired corporate executive, still remembers the fervor that enveloped his hometown after Pearl Harbor. "You could barely get into the recruiting offices," he says. "Everyone wanted to get into the services. It was a war everyone believed in."

Every other house, it seemed, displayed a flag with a blue star in its window, indicating a son in the service. As the war persisted, many of those blue stars were changed to yellow, indicating a son killed in combat.

Mr. Meckley recalls his father becoming an air raid warden and his future wife a candy striper in the hospital. Everyone, it seemed, was buying war bonds and hauling their scrap metal, iron, and aluminum foil to collection sites. While men joined the service in prodigious numbers, women flocked to factories to help meet defense production needs.

"There was an indomitable spirit then," says Meckley, who became a Navy officer during the war. It is a communal spirit he sees as absent now. "I don't think [the war] even registers with a lot of people. I'm not sure people even connect it with 9/11 anymore."

Phil Avillo, another wartime veteran – he lost a leg as a marine in Vietnam – agrees that the war is far from people's minds because it is far from their daily existence. "We no longer see the connection between terrorism and the way we live our lives," he says. "9/11 did that but only for a month or so, until George Bush said, 'Let's go shopping.' "

Instead, Mr. Avillo, a retired York College history professor and twice an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress, says when the US first attacked Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Americans should have been forced to reduce oil consumption as well. "The president should have made the case that reducing our consumption of foreign oil was one more piece of the war on terror."

Instead, he says, the war goes on, "but for most people, life hasn't changed at all. Most communities are unaffected."

The war, compounded by politics back home, has made him question the ability of any leader to rally the country to unite behind a cause.

Dana Shearon, an instructional aide whose brother, Philadelphia policeman Gennaro Pelligini, was killed in Iraq in 2005, tries to keep the war vivid by speaking about Gennaro to her students at York Middle School whenever she can. "I talk to them about the Pledge of Allegiance," she says. "I tell them I always thought it was important, but it took the death of my brother for it to really sink in."