War without the sacrifice

Support: Members of the military are angry that virtually nothing is asked of U.S. civilians for the effort in Iraq.


WASHINGTON - The Bush administration's rallying call that America is a nation at war is increasingly ringing hollow to men and women in uniform, who argue in frustration that America is not a nation at war but a nation with only its military at war.

From bases in Iraq and across the United States to the Pentagon and the military's war colleges, officers and enlisted personnel quietly raise a question for political leaders: If America is truly on a war footing, why is so little sacrifice asked of the nation at large?

There is no serious talk of a draft to share the burden of fighting across the broad citizenry, and neither Republicans nor Democrats are pressing for a tax increase to force Americans to cover the $5 billion a month in costs from Iraq, Afghanistan and new counterterrorism missions.

There are not even concerted efforts such as the savings-bond drives or gasoline rationing that helped to unite the country behind its fighting forces in wars past.

"Nobody in America is asked to sacrifice, except us," said one officer just back from a yearlong tour in Iraq, voicing a frustration drawing the attention of academic specialists in military sociology.

Members of the military who discussed their sense of frustration did so only when promised anonymity, because comments viewed as critical of the civilian leadership could end their careers. The sentiments were expressed in more than two dozen interviews and casual conversations with enlisted personnel, noncommissioned officers, midlevel officers and general or flag officers in Iraq and in the United States.

Charles Moskos, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University specializing in military sociology, said: "My terminology for it is `patriotism lite,' and that's what we're experiencing now in both political parties. The political leaders are afraid to ask the public for any real sacrifice, which doesn't speak too highly of the citizenry."

Senior administration officials say they are aware of the tension and have opened discussions on whether to mobilize brigades of Americans beyond those already signed up for active duty or in the Reserves and National Guard.

At the Pentagon and the State Department, officials have held preliminary talks on creating a Civilian Reserve, a sort of Peace Corps for professionals.

In an interview, Douglas J. Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said that discussions had begun on a program to seek commitments from bankers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, electricians, plumbers and solid-waste disposal experts to deploy to conflict zones for months at a time on reconstruction assignments, to relieve pressure on the military.

When Bush last addressed the issue of nationwide support for the war effort in a formal speech, he asked Americans to use the Fourth of July as a time to "find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom by flying the flag, sending a letter to our troops in the field or helping the military family down the street."

Speaking at Fort Bragg, N.C., on June 28, Bush mentioned a Defense Department Web site, Americasupports you.mil, where people can learn about private-sector efforts to bolster the morale of the troops. He also urged those considering a career in the military to enlist because "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces."

While officers and enlisted personnel say they enjoy symbolic signs of support and the high ratings that the military enjoys in public opinion polls, "that's just not enough," said a one-star officer who served in Iraq. "There has to be more," he added, saying that the absence of a call for broader national sacrifice in a time of war has become a near-constant topic of discussion among officers and enlisted personnel.

"For most Americans," said an officer with a year's experience in Iraq, "their role in the war on terror is limited to the slight inconvenience of arriving at the airport a few hours early."

David C. Hendrickson, a scholar on foreign policy and the presidency at Colorado College, said, "Bush understands that the support of the public for war - especially the war in Iraq - is conditioned on demanding little of the public."

Hendrickson said that after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, just as after the recent London bombings, political leaders urged the population to continue life as normal, so as not to give terrorists a moral victory by giving in to the fear of violence.

But he said the stress of the commitment to the mission in Iraq was viewed by the public in a different light than a terrorist attack on home soil.

"The public wants very much to support the troops" in Iraq, he said. "But it doesn't really believe in the mission."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.