The Forgotten War and the Election

News about Iraq and Afghanistan fills the media.  At the same time we are besieged with stories about the up-coming election.  But where are the stories about how the war is affecting election campaigns?

This stunning absence calls for an explanation.  With all the money spent on polls, focus groups and electoral analysis, we can be sure that this absence of discussion or debate is no accident.  But what does it mean?  What does it say about us?

In an OpEd piece on Monday, Tom Brokaw noted the absence, what he called the “forgotten wars:”  “The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services — or have a family member who has stepped forward — nothing much is asked of them in the war effort.”

Our all-volunteer army, he adds, represents less than 1 percent of the American population, and, moreover, the majority of those in uniform come from working-class or lower middle-class backgrounds.  (See, “The Wars That America Forgot About.”)

This may be part of the answer, as this war stand in striking contrast to the Vietnam war, when hundreds of thousands of middle-class students who were eligible for the draft vehemently protested.  But there is another answer that has to do with the meaning of the war, and the absence of conflict about it.

In the minds of most Americans, this war is still seen as a response to 9/11.  It’s not really a choice, but an obligation of self-defense.  Perhaps it could be fought differently, but if you feel you have been attacked there is no question about whether or not you need to defend yourself.

In fact, though, this is a myth.  We believe we are there to defeat and punish Al Qaida, but for sometime now, news reports have made it clear that Al Qaida has relocated to Pakistan.  As we get more and more deeply enmeshed in the hopeless tribal politics of a backward and corrupt regime, the public still believes we are fighting those who perpetrated 9/11.  To think otherwise would feel disloyal and, perhaps, defeatist.

So our politicians cannot debate this issue because it is a myth we are all too deeply committed to sharing.  Unconsciously, I think, we are all eager to get our of there as quickly as possible, but we can’t talk about it because we can’t face the hopeless situation it has become.

Not only are we not attacking the perpetrators we set out to punish, our strategy is probably provoking more hatred – and more terrorist responses.