Wall Street took a 520 point drop on Wednesday. Fifteen million people are looking for work in the United States, and that figure is probably low. Millions are underemployed. No one in business or government seems to know how to create jobs. The stench of despair coming out of Washington and the media capitols is rank and constant. Has there been a summer of such discontent since 1979?
On one stage we see those who lead us, those we have voted into office – zealots, the corrupt, the weak, the disconnected wealthy (forty-four percent of the House and Senate are millionaires*; one percent of American citizens are millionaires) – all the American political world seems filled to overflowing with the hapless, fools and scoundrels, the clueless, cynics, and crazies, “the worst …full of passionate intensity”**. In our national politicians we seem to have encouraged either a population of cowards, afraid of not being returned to power should they actually take a stand for common sense, or a population of fanatics, gerrymandered into safe seats, fearless in their righteousness. We put them there.
On another stage we see this: early Saturday morning, August 6, thirty one servicemen, including a large number of Navy Seals, died in eastern Afghanistan when a twin-rotor Chinook helicopter took a hit from an RPG fired by a Taliban guerilla. The armed forces have been taking causalities since October of 2001 but this loss, perhaps magnified by everything else going wrong, seemed to concentrate my attention, and at least for the span of a few days, the attention of the nation.
Their deaths caused me to think about the disparity between us and them, between their devotion to duty and our inattention to them. These are facts:
Active Duty: 1,477,896 plus Reserve: 1,458,500 = 2,936,396 out of a population of 308,000,000 = .94% of Americans are defending all of us and carrying on their shoulders and the shoulders of their families the burdens of two wars. They have been doing so since late 2001.
This is a part of what they have endured:
In Iraq and Afghanistan combined, 6198 dead and 45,429 wounded***. Of those who have served in both theaters, the Pentagon estimates that 360,000 veterans have suffered brain injuries from the explosion of IED’s and 45,000 to 90,000 of them will or currently do require “specialized care”****.
The men and women who serve have chosen their profession. They knew some of the risks. They accepted them and continue to do so. We asked them to do this. Through us, our elected leadership, both left and right, continues to ask them to do this, deployment after deployment after deployment after deployment.
As citizens we have been asked to sacrifice nothing – neither comfort nor peace of mind. Meanwhile, less than 1% of American families wait for the terrible arrival at their doors of uniformed messengers or endure another year without a father or mother and must make do with their ghostly presence on Skype.
Maybe we can agree, left and right, that the 1% rule of cost is an injustice so deep and obvious that other alternatives that serve morality and fairness can be formulated. Maybe we can agree that rigid ideology and arguments disconnected from reality as lived by most Americans have no place in any reasonable discussion as to how to solve our problems. Maybe we can agree that West Point’s motto of “Duty, Honor, Country” should serve as the iron boundary for any and all discussions between politicians about how to speak to us and to each other. Maybe as an engaged citizenry, we can take the trouble to pay attention to those who bleed for us, to those who die for us, to those for whom “Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful) or “Non sibi sed patriae” (Not self but country) serve as guides for how to measure integrity.
We have sent our best young men and women into darkness and fire for 10 consecutive years. We owe them our devotion to the ideals they have sworn to protect.
*CBS News Political Hot Sheet: August 10, 2011
**Yeats: The Second Coming
****USA Today, 3.5.2009