Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The War in Iraq and Afghanistan

Our Morale Needs a Moral: A Task for the New President

For the third time in several years a member of my family is serving in harm’s way in the Middle East. More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan
since the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center. What this means is that I’m pretty much like everybody else in America. We all know someone in our family or neighborhood who has put his or her life on the line in this war on terror.

But something is missing. I keep asking myself what I can do. I’m not a soldier, I’m a civilian and I want to be a part of the fight too. I look around me and I see my friends and neighbors driving their SUVs to the grocery store, getting fat eating pizza and burgers, debating the war with one another, blabbing on television about the presidential candidates, and generally acting as if nothing at all is going on out there. Acting as if our sons and daughters in uniform aren’t dying. I’m just as guilty of this. It calls to mind a prayer Eleanor Roosevelt said she carried with her during World War II:

Dear Lord
Lest I continue
My complacent way
Help me to remember
Somewhere out there
A man died for me today
--As long as there be war
I then must
Ask and answer
Am I worth dying for?

For obvious reasons I don’t identify my relative who is serving in Afghanistan except by the nickname “Lt. Dana.” She sent me the following email recently. I read it as I had just returned from shopping.

"Today we finally have a break in our op tempo. We need it. We lost two more of our own this past week. The most difficult aspect of that for me (because my interaction with the operators is minimal, I usually know of them, but don't know them well personally) is going to the ceremonies and watching grown tough men - the toughest, breaking down and crying, or standing there and trying not to. It is upsetting and infuriating."

After 9/11 we saw how deep was the reservoir of American patriotism. The next president must do two things if we are to successfully pursue this war on terror. He must tap into this reservoir and give us a clear reminder of why we fight. And he must show us all what we can do to help. For the morale of all of us we need a moral reason to go on and for the morale of all of us we need to know that this fight is so important it can’t go on without the help of the American people.

Winston Churchill did this so well. In 1940, when the French threw up their hands and let Hitler walk into Paris, Churchill told the world; “We shall fight on forever and ever and ever …” He used a wonderful word in describing Hitler: he called him “wicked” and in so doing was not only correct in his assessment, made it clear what England was fighting against. “Hitler is a monster of wickedness,” he said. “Insatiable in his lust for blood and plunder.” Then, he took it a step further and told the world what England was fighting for.

"The destiny of mankind is not decided by material computation. When great causes are on the move in the world … we learn that we are spirits not animals, and that something is going on in space and time and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty."

I was talking with a friend of mine last year when he was in town from New York. He was rabid in his anti-war sentiment and said to me: “This is Bush’s war!” No, I said to him it isn’t. Because George W. Bush, for good or for ill, is not the president of only those who like him. He’s the president of the United States, and the soldiers fighting are soldiers of the United States. And in that moment I realized that this young man had not yet heard a reason to embrace the cause of fighting these fanatics who would be the first to eliminate him for having the independence of mind to disagree with the leaders of his country.

I don’t know if we’re fighting terror in the right place or not. But I know these extremists are out there and have to be fought either on their home ground or on ours. I know they hate me because as an American woman I can drive and vote and go to restaurants. I know they hate my country because of the very tolerance and freedom of choice we have to debate the conduct of our nation’s war on terror. I hope the next president, whoever he or she is, will find a way to lead us all to a clear understanding—or reminder, if the tapes from 9/11 aren’t enough anymore—of who we are fighting and why we are fighting them. And then ask us all for some kind of sacrifice to help out, whether it’s walking to work once a week or car pooling or buying war bonds or donating time to our USO. Please ask us all for something, because the sacrifice of our troops is so great we need to believe in our hearts that we are worth dying for.

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