Defense Secretary Panetta felt compelled recently to “remind” Americans we are at war. He didn’t have to remind the family of Command Sgt. Major Kevin Griffin of Laramie. An Afghan trained by our soldiers to police his own country so that we can leave in 2014, killed Griffin.
The war in Afghanistan started more than a decade ago on October 7, 2001. World War II, the last necessary war the nation fought, lasted one day over six years. World War I, the “war to end all wars,” lasted only four years. But America has been trudging through Afghanistan for 10 years and 10 months.
Viet Nam veteran John Kerry, now a Senator, first served heroically and then worked to end that war. In 1971 Kerry asked a question that haunted a generation, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Forty years later America is again asking both men and women to die for another mistake.
Why are there no widespread protests of the continuing war even though 75% of us are opposed? We suffer “Apocalypse Now” syndrome. Remember this dialogue?
Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.
Kilgore: I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
Americans are addicted to war. They like it. When there’s no money for anything else, they’ll find a way to finance a war. But the warmongers, if no one else, learned their lesson in Viet Nam. If the children of Americans are conscripted to carry the guns and all of us are taxed to pay the costs, people protest loudly. Today’s warriors are volunteers. The cost, a billion dollars per week, goes on the credit card. People who have to contribute their children or their money to a “mistake” tend to get angrier faster. Those who don’t have to sacrifice anything will tolerate a longer war.
Also the Viet Nam era had what this generation lacks, a few politicians with courage. When the Johnson administration made up a story to persuade congress to authorize the war, Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon was one of only two senators who opposed the so-called Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing LBJ to send massive numbers of soldiers to war. He spoke out against the war knowing that was an unpopular position. In 1968 Morse lost to Republican Robert Packwood, who criticized him for opposing the war.
Arkansas Senator William Fulbright was another. Fulbright not only voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution, he sponsored it. Fulbright finally realized he had not been told the truth, that the war was a mistake. He had the courage to stand against his own party and worked to end the war.
But there hasn’t been a single demonstration of courage on this war in either the executive or legislative branches. Admittedly, finding the courage to oppose a war is easier when the folks back home are protesting. But if courage were easy, everybody would be courageous. The party line is easy, but always following it is not a “profile in courage.”
Few members of congress would risk less by exercising political courage than Wyoming’s senators. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso could serve this nation by calling for an end to the war. Even though they initially supported the war, they must know it has lasted too long, taken too many lives and continues to cost us money we don’t have. Imagine the impact if one of their standing said, “Enough is enough. The value of continued death has been outlived.”
Unless some politician finally exhibits the courage of Morse or Fulbright, we’ll spend another 100 billion dollars before Obama’s 2014 withdrawal. More Americans alongside countless (literally countless) Afghan children, women and men will die.
Again, the United States finds itself asking someone’s son, daughter, husband, or wife to be the last to die for another mistake. That will haunt America for yet another generation. Unfortunately, we’ll probably get over it again.