Friday, November 17, 2006

'We' are not in Iraq. Our soldiers are,0,3015871.story?coll=la-opinion-center

"Less than 1% of our country wears a military uniform; fewer still have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead of being seen as a duty that should be borne by all, military service has been transformed into an elective chosen by the few. Today, with America at war, the burden of service is heavy, but it is not wide. Small military communities such as Oceanside, Calif.; and Clarksville, Tenn., feel the human cost of this war, but they are unusual in America. And so we lavish praise on those who make this decision, regardless of whether their choice is owed to personal patriotism, ambition or a quest for opportunity.

Soldiers and civilians also share a different moral code, something highlighted by those different definitions of heroism. Soldiers exist for their team; they will do anything for love of their brothers and sisters in uniform. Civilians, by contrast, live for themselves. Americans have become the quintessential rational actors of economic lore — pursuing their self-interest above all else, seeking enrichment and gratification."

'But there is a definite edge in his voice, an undercurrent of bitterness, when he talks about the tiny percentage of the American population that is shouldering the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We're nowhere close to sharing the sacrifice," he said. "And it should be shared, because it's only in that sharing that society will truly care about what's going on over there.

"Right now it's such a small minority of families who have a stake in all of this. I hear people say things like, ‘We lost a lot of good people over there.' I sort of snap around and say, ‘We? You didn't lose anybody.' You know what I mean?"

While most Americans are free to go about their daily business, unaffected by the wars in any way, scores of thousands of troops have been sent off on repeat tours into the combat zones. According to the support group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, two-thirds of the 92,000 Army troops deployed since the beginning of this year are on at least their second deployment.

Many soldiers, like Sergeant Krause, have served three or four tours. There is no way for a nation as big and as rich and as healthy as the U.S. to justify the imposition of such a tragic and heavy load on the backs of so few.

Sergeant Krause showed me a photo of a soldier who he thought would become his brother-in-law, a 23-year-old West Point graduate named Dennis Zilinski. He was killed last November, along with four other American soldiers in a roadside bomb attack near Bayji, Iraq.

Sergeant Krause said that witnessing the profound grief of Lt. Zilinski's mother and fiancée "drove home" the real meaning of wartime sacrifice.

Sergeant Krause is proud of his service and still loves the military. "But we're a nation at war," he said, "and we should all be in this together."'

He is correct. We should all be in this together.

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