War and risk: When is the sacrifice justified?

Regarding your May 24 article "Risks of waging only risk-free war": The press misunderstands the apparent aversion to combat risk attributed to our government in general and the Pentagon in particular.

Succinctly, it is the product of a logical and very moral cost-benefit analysis. When vital national security interests are at stake, American citizens gladly shoulder massive risks.

But in truth, the military campaigns in which we have been involved since the cold war have only peripherally involved vital national security risks - the Balkans and Gulf Wars not withstanding. The great challenge that our national strategy of "engagement and enlargement" places before us is worthy of Solomon: When is the risk justified?

It is important to remember that members of our armed forces are citizens, with a social contract entitling them to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our armed forces are sworn to defend "the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic," and there is no risk too great when our nation is in jeopardy. Citizen soldiers are not mercenaries. They did not join the armed forces to risk death for money or altruistic ends unrelated to the security of our nation.

Our military is totally obedient to civilian authority, but no civilian authority will remain popular when it squanders the lives of its constituents. It is entirely proper for the government of the United States to conserve the lives of its citizens by expending them only when it can be justified for the greater good of the nation at large. Perhaps you believe that the US would be better served by a standing army of mercenaries who are willing to die anywhere for causes that are of little import to them. I think not.

David H. Gurney Norfolk, Va. Lt. Col. of Marines

If "Risks of waging only risk-free war" is implying our foreign policy depends on public acceptance of higher military casualties, then perhaps it's time to revise our foreign policy.

John F. Kennedy Jr. said during the 1960 campaign that Quemoy and Matsu were not "worth the bones of a single American boy." Maybe it is time to use Kennedy's criterion rather than abstract notions of geopolitics.

Guido H. Stempel III Athens, Ohio

Graduates poised to make a difference

It was a disappointment to read the May 30 front-page headline: "At graduation, extolling cash and capitalism." Though there is so much emphasis in our society today on material wealth, I still held hope that loftier thoughts might still engage students on a college campus. The headline led me to assume my hope was unfounded.

It was, however, misleading, since the article went on to state, "Indeed, 'go out and save the world' speeches remain the staple of American commencement ceremonies." A headline emphasizing the "go out and save the world" speeches would have been more appropriate and definitely, in my opinion, more inspiring to those of us who celebrate along with this year's graduates, who stand poised to make a difference.

Marie Pavish Sedgwick, Maine

Less-obscene movies, please

Kudos for your May 24 editorial "Hollywood lights up" deploring the degree of smoking occurring in movies and on television. Is it a quixotic hope that explicit sex and gross obscenities can somehow get similar attention and be reined in? They only provide "shock value" and a catering to voyeurism. Rarely are they essential to a story line. Why flaunt depravity?

Norman J. Knights DeLand, Fla.

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