Sacrificial Limbs

By Kerry Trueman, Eating Liberally

Take a moment, today, while you’re grilling up those ribs or thighs, to consider some other charred body parts — the arms, legs, and other limbs our soldiers have left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops have come home maimed, or in a flag-wrapped box, so that we could go on grillin,’ chillin’, and fillin’ our tanks and tummies with cheap fuel and food.

Good luck with that; according to a report in today’s New York Times, most Americans are too busy struggling to feed their families, fuel their cars, and cling to the roof over their heads to spend much time thinking about the sacrifices our soldiers are making on our behalf.

Apparently, we’d rather tune out the war, and our news media is happy to oblige, as David Carr reports:

“…coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has slipped to 3 percent of all American print and broadcast news as of last week, falling from 25 percent as recently as last September.”

Carr asked Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, how the media could largely ignore a war that has cost us thousands of lives and over $1 trillion. Keller e-mailed back:

There is a cold and sad calculation that readers/viewers aren’t that interested in the war, whether because they are preoccupied with paying $4 for a gallon of gas and avoiding foreclosure, or because they have Iraq fatigue.

Over on the Time’s op-ed page, today, though, in that reality-free zone occupied by hack-to-the-hawks Bill Kristol, the analysis is that we do care — in fact, we care a lot. Sure, Kristol notes, most Americans won’t be taking part in any Memorial Day services or commemorations, but:

This doesn’t mean Americans are indifferent to the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. In fact, I suspect that many of us feel so much in debt to our servicemen and women, and so much in awe of the ultimate sacrifice some of them have made and all of them are willing to make, that we worry any effort to honor them wouldn’t be commensurate with their deeds.

See? We care so much that we can’t even show how much we care, because we’re paralyzed by the fear that those “Support the Troops” bumper stickers don’t adequately convey our appreciation.

We are, in fact, eternally indebted to all the men and women who choose to voluntarily serve our country because they: (a) believe it is their patriotic duty; (b) have limited economic opportunities; (c) cannot afford to attend college (see b); or, (d) all of the above.

The fact is that financial necessity compels many of our soldiers to enlist as much as patriotism. As Robert Frank noted in his review in Sunday’s Times of Steven Greenhouse’s new book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker:

… no economic system can prosper in the long run if people who work hard and play by the rules cannot meet their basic needs. The workers profiled in “The Big Squeeze” cannot afford to pay for health care or to send their children to decent schools. And precisely because of their precarious economic position, their sons and daughters are far more likely than others to go into the military.

If, on the other hand, you’re fortunate enough to land yourself a spot in an Ivy League school, you’ve got a great shot at never having to worry about getting shot at. Better still, that coveted diploma might get you a seat on the military-industrial gravy train, where, contrary to the wisdom of Sir Winston Churchill, it’s always better to war-war than to jaw-jaw. The war may be costing a few thousand lives, and costing our nation a fortune, but it’s making a handful of folks a handsome profit, too.

The rest of us, evidently, are content to gnaw on a bar-b-qued bone this Memorial Day. Just don’t forget, as Bill Kristol helpfully reminds us, to “remember to remember” our troops today. Message: you care.