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Posted at 1:05 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

Sad, but true: Americans are out of touch with wars

By Jonathan Capehart

If you want to know how removed we are from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- heck, from military matters altogether -- read Greg Jaffe's moving story in The Post about Lt. Gen. John Kelly and the loss of his son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly. The younger Kelly died after stepping on a land mine while leading a platoon of Marines in southern Afghanistan. He was 29.

Four days after receiving the news and undertaking the heartbreaking task of telling his wife about their son's death, Kelly delivered an unsettling truth during a speech in St.Louis last November. "We are in a life-and-death struggle, but not our whole country," he said. "One percent of Americans are touched by this war. Then there is a much smaller club of families who have given all." Did you catch that statistic? One percent of Americans -- Twitter-addled, Charlie Sheen-addicted and mall-hopping Americans -- are personally touched by this war.

Kelly's impassioned comment comes after a speech by Defense Secretary Robert Gates last September. "[T]here is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally, and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend," he said. And after a January "Chairman's Corner" blog post by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which he cited that same 1 percent stat, writing, "I worry that we could wake up one day and that the American people will no longer know us, and we won't know them."

To be clear, no one is calling for a reinstatement of the draft. Yes, every year, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) reintroduces a bill to do so. But even he knows his effort isn't going anywhere. What Rangel's annual gambit does, as do stories like Jaffe's today, is remind us that our liberty and the way of life we sometimes take for granted comes at a high price that 99 percent of us will never pay.

By Jonathan Capehart  | March 2, 2011; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

What this represents is that we as a society are now willing to engage in small "colonial" wars without much fanfare. We have become Britain of the 18th and 19th centuries, fighting small brushfire wars all over the world. However, instead of protecting our colonies, we are protecting our "interests," though that may be a distinction without a difference.

We have a professional military. That is a good thing in some respects. But the fact that it has become so insulated from the rest of society makes society more willing to tolerate its use in these small wars. I am not sure the problem is with the military (by and large, I think that service members are pretty plugged into the rest of society and reflect it more than they are given credit for). I think the problem is with those who aren't willing to pay attention, who have become so self-absorbed that they don't really care about what happens with anybody else -- who don't really care about contributing to society if there isn't something in it for them.

What is most dangerous is that it is these people who have come to dominate American society and polity.

Posted by: DM_Inf | March 2, 2011 2:39 PM | Report abuse

What this really represents is the media failing to report what has become Obama's war. No longer are there questions on his timetable for withdrawal, no longer are there reports of actions, progress, or setbacks. As far as the American public knows, Afghanistan and Iraq are static.

No news is no news. Americans are only aware of what the media chooses to report.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | March 2, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I am in full agreement with Rep Rangel; the draft needs to be re-instituted with no exemptions. If there was a draft, the American public would be much more engaged on the use of our military and it's well being. Had there been a draft, it is highly unlikely we would have been at war for the last 10 years. Bring back the draft.

Posted by: libinFL | March 2, 2011 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I entirely agree; one of the worst things the Bush Administration did, in my opinion, was start these wars without asking the general populace to send our children or pay higher taxes, thus rendering the wars invisible. The Obama Administration has been only slightly better (at least we can see the coffins coming home) in this respect. I remember my friends avoiding the Viet Nam draft if at all possible, but at least we had to give thought to the issue of going to war.

Posted by: MaineWoman | March 2, 2011 5:40 PM | Report abuse

.
Jonathan,
I don't agree that General Kelly delivered an unsettling truth when he said,
"We are in a life-and-death struggle, but not our whole country ..."

Not in the larger sense.
Of the 2 major wars our military is conducting, in Afghanistan and Iraq, neither one concerns the life or death of our nation, or even a significant threat to us. These wars only threaten the lives and deaths of the soldiers deployed there, not our vital national interests.

As a General, he should be speaking out against going to war for no good reason.
Now THAT would be an unsettling truth.
.

Posted by: BrianX9 | March 2, 2011 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Americans need to be more involved politically and also more aware of our military actions overseas. However, I do not agree that the draft should be reinstated. I have young boys myself and I cringe at the thought of either one of them working for a government who so carelessly and cavalierly throws our soldiers' lives away. I do not believe that our leaders have our children's best interests at heart. If we were truly fighting for liberty,justice, and peace, then I would proudly stand behind my son's decisions to enter into military service. But until our leaders show some regard for our soldiers' lives, and only endanger them for a real purpose, not just to "protect our interests". Until that day, I hope to God the draft does not get reinstated.

Posted by: skjsob | March 2, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Capehart; "Main-SLIME journalists"; all,

the vast majority of the responsibility for the public's disconnection with the 2 wars that the US in engaged in is that of "the American press".

when was the last time that you saw/heard ANYTHING about the wars except casualty figures, alleged war crimes by US service-members and/or the CRAZED acts of terrorists & suicide bombers?


i strongly suspect that the FAILURE to accurately report anything but war crimes & casualty figures is a PREMEDITATED attempt by the press to assure that the US voters know little or nothing about the FACTS that:
1. we have won EVERY engagement with our enemies,
2. we are disassembling the terrorist networks & destroying their "leaders" on a daily basis
and
3. our brave troops are WINNING their/our wars.

note to all: you are being LIED TO & "PLAYED" by the press. - as a retired soldier, i KNOW what is going on in both places, as i have former comrades-in-arms in both countries, who e-mail me frequently with THE TRUTH.
(fwiw, THE TRUTH is NOT wishful thinking, unknowing opinions, "political spin", common gossip, propaganda and/or arrogant ignorance of the facts; instead, TRUTH is simply THE TRUTH.)

for example, i KNOW that there WERE "weapons of mass destruction" CAPTURED in Iraq, as my brother-in-law was within 20M of the munitions, five days after we took Bagbadh. - that is JUST ONE of the KNOWING LIES told to their listeners/viewers by the "main-SLIME press" to KNOWINGLY deceive the public.
(frankly, i'm NOT "overly fond of" my B-I-L, BUT he does NOT lie about his deployment to Iraq and/or what he personally WITNESSED.)

yours, TN46
USA, Retired

Posted by: texasnative46 | March 3, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

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