Thursday, April 05, 2007

Stolen Sacrifices

In the last several months, Americans of different political backgrounds have been arguing that one of Pres. Bush's biggest failings as a leader has been his unwillingness to ask Americans to sacrifice during a time of war. These people argue that soldiers and their families are making big sacrifices--lives, jobs, stability, time with family--but the rest of us aren't.

Can't argue with the first part. Our soldiers and the people who care about them are being asked to make huge sacrifices, time after time, year after year. It often seems to me that liberals, conservatives, and apathetics alike who stridently accuse others of not "supporting the troops" are doing so in large part because they feel guilty about going along with a plan of action that requires 0.1% of the population to make 100% of the obvious sacrifices.

But here's some sick consolation for those feeling guilty: when it comes to the Iraq War, the rest of us are actually making sacrifices too. We're just not being asked to make them. We're not even aware of them.

Okay, maybe morally you can't be said to be "sacrificing" if you're not aware that you're doing it. But we are giving up a lot to make this war happen. I've said most of this before--we've spent something like $600 billion specifically on the war, more on affiliated military costs, and way more on opportunity costs.

The opportunity costs are particularly huge. By investing some--not even all--of the spent on the Iraq War, we could instead have stabilized the Social Security fund well through the retirement of the boomers. We could have used the Iraq War money to put in place ambitious, serious education plans that would lift poor people out of poverty, that would have placed better college education in the reach of everybody, and that in the long run would have made America both more pleasant to live in and more economically competitive. We could have worked out a national health care plan that would have protected, in particular, children without insurance. If nothing else, we could have given everybody--including military families who now would have their loved ones at home--a tax cut.

Above all else, we could have preserved the idea that the American government is there to serve Americans. Americans in general. Not defense contractors, not neocons who have manhood issues because they were picked on in elementary school, not chickenhawks who had other priorities until they were too old to put on a uniform. But from 2001-2006, we sat back and allowed a government to tell us that our long-term best interests lay in ignoring the Constitution and not spending any of our tax dollars on our future. We let our government spend more money than it had on something that hurt us, meaning that we now have less money to spend on things that could help us.

That has to stop. It really does. It's bad enough that nobody asked us to sacrifice. And it's worse that they made us do it anyway. It's worst of all that we're only now starting to notice.

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