Few people feel worse than I do for our troops who have had to serve two, three or more tours of duty in a war zone thanks to our end zone fumbles in Iraq, and I can understand why some of those troops are starting to complain about it. But when I start hearing about how unfair it is that only the troops are sacrificing, that's where my sympathy ends.
What Did the "Volunteers" Think They Were Volunteering For?
I'm not fond of chastising enlisted personnel for expressing their personal views, but Sergeant X agreed to be quoted in Herbert's October 12 column "Sacrifice of the Few," and Herbert saw fit to identify him by name. The column is nested behind NYT's Times Select firewall, but I'll give you enough snippets to illustrate my point.
Sgt. [X] remembers the time, not too long ago, when he came home on a brief leave from Iraq. He was walking through an airport, in uniform, and other passengers, spotting him, began to applaud.
“It was awesome,” he said. “They were cheering and clapping. It was great. But you know what? I said to myself, ‘That guy’s flying to Toledo on a business trip. This lady over here is flying off on vacation. Their lives are normal. But soon I’ll be getting on a plane to go back to the most abnormal place on earth.’”
What Sergeant X and Herbert don't seem to understand is that those other people's lives are "normal" because those are the lives they signed up for. Sergeant X was headed back to "the most abnormal place on earth" because he volunteered to be in the business of professional arms.
Like everyone else in the armed services today, Sergeant X was not drafted. When he volunteered to fight wars, did it not occur to him that he might actually have to fight one? And has it never occurred to Sergeant X or Herbert that America finances a robust standing professional force in peacetime so that if war breaks out, the professional force will fight it and the rest of America can go on with its "normal" life?
[Sergeant X is] safely home after serving three nerve-racking combat tours — one in Afghanistan and two yearlong tours in Iraq. He’s engaged to be married and will receive a degree soon from [a nearby] State University. His commitment to the military, which he made while still in high school…, will end in a few months.
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."
The war in Iraq is the number one issue in American politics and "society" doesn't care about what's going on "over there?" As for "sharing the sacrifice," whom does Sergeant X think pays him twice a month, and spends $2 billion per week to "support" the war in Iraq, and financed his state university education and his fiancé's engagement ring?
Can We Share?
Herbert didn't let the interview end until Sergeant X endorsed one of Herbert's favorite mantras.
He said that if he could wave a magic wand, he would make some form of public service compulsory. “You wouldn’t have to join the military,” he said. “But there are many other ways to serve. You could work for AmeriCorps, or the Red Cross, or Homeland Security. You could do something. It’s about social responsibility. Especially in a time of war."
Much of the time, Bob Herbert's heart is in the right place, but on certain subjects he has his head cross threaded up another part of his anatomy, and his advocacy of compulsory national service is one of his foggiest notions.
Let's say we require every citizen between the ages of 18 and 20 to perform two years of national service. What are we going to do with all those kids, and how are we going to pay them? Do we not have enough bloated, ineffective federal government programs already? And how will having a bunch of underage drinkers getting underfoot at AmericaCorps or the Red Cross or Homeland Security help us win our war? Two words: it won't. Does Herbert honestly think it makes sense in wartime to keep an all volunteer military and conscript everyone else to hand out coffee and doughnuts at the USO? That sort of "sacrifice" wouldn't do the likes of Sergeant X any good, and it would horn in on Halliburton's combat coffee service contract.
I'm embarrassed for Sergeant X. He comes across in Herbert's column like he's in need of a prescription for grow-up pills. But my embarrassment for Sergeant X is nothing compared to my outrage at Bob Herbert for exploiting a dispirited young soldier to promote Bob Herbert's personal agenda.
Herbert does a grave injustice to the dignity of America's fighting men and women when he hands one a crying towel and turns on the tape recorder.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.