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Giving our best to America

Gary Caruso | Friday, September 28, 2007

Tragically, the number of American troops killed overseas surpassed the 3,800 mark this week while we at home sat fat as marshmallows. For nearly six years now, we remain shrouded by fear-mongering and removed from the reality of combat. Americans cower in trepidation of an attack on our homefront, but wallow without so much as sacrificing a gallon of gasoline to aid the war effort. Even our once-celebrated and renamed “freedom fries” at congressional cafeterias have reverted back to the French.

Whether described as a war on terror, a war against insurgents or a quagmire caught in the middle of a civil war, the savage brutality our troops face is typical of every war. This writer recently witnessed firsthand the carnage against our troops when the wounded landed at Andrews Air Force Base. Yet absent in our war effort is sacrifice from American society. Rather, we allow “them” to handle the conflict – politicians, the Pentagon, private contractors and intelligence gathering operatives. The less Americans are involved, the less we know or even care about the details of war.

Within our world of not knowing the details thrives the shortcomings of our current war operations. For example, at one point, Jane Fonda bought more armor for our troops than the Pentagon. This week, the war’s cost surprisingly jumped by an additional $42 billion without warning. We are oblivious to the security actions of our government done in the name of us. It is time to involve every citizen and to ask for sacrifice.

This week marks the 38th time the number of our dead surpasses another increment of one hundred. That milestone really marks another hundred parts of America lost, another hundred units of freedom lost, another hundred lost fragments of what we knew as American life but now have lost forever. Those hundred have given the ultimate while we ate potato chips, drank beer and watched professional sporting events.

Nearly five years ago when our troops invaded Iraq and Republicans controlled all branches of government, Americans were not asked to partner with the troops. We could have changed our fat, lazy lives by reducing our oil consumption through less driving and smaller vehicles. We should have been asked to buy victory bonds to pay for this war.

It was the ideal time to enact an energy policy that removed our soft, plump bellies pressed behind the steering wheels of such large, wasteful and unnecessary super-sized “look-at-me” luxury SUVs like Escalades, Navigators and Avalanches. Ironically, most principal owners of companies awarded military contracts (both large and small) personally own, rent or share at least one luxury SUV within their families.

Instead of collecting revenue and involving the public, our free-market governmental leaders turned to entrepreneurs who grew rich-selling “support the troops” ribbon magnets still displayed on so many vehicles. Someday we will fund this trillion-dollar war through what Ronald Reagan called “revenue enhancements.” Until then, we look back on what Americans have actually funded thus far – a silly vehicle magnet.

Our lessons learned should be rooted in an appreciation of past wars. The debut this week of “The War,” a PBS documentary by Ken Burns, dramatically chronicles the tragically sad sacrifices American families endured throughout World War II. It reminds us of the hundreds of thousands of sons, brothers and fathers who were asked to gamble their lives for victory and who consequently were slaughtered in foreign lands. The documentary offers us guidelines on how to really support our troops.

Americans dedicated themselves to the World War II effort when automobile plants produced hundreds of planes a day. Yet, today we wait for the production of only 1,200 of 8,000 new M-wrap armored vehicles while American blood is shed at a rate of nearly 100 per month. Everyday life in World War II included “victory” goals such as cultivating victory gardens, constructing victory bins to fight waste and even collecting two billion pounds of waste kitchen fat with enough glycerin for 10 billion rapid fire canon shells. A skillet of bacon grease was known as a little munitions factory.

Perhaps we need such reminders of “victory” today or vivid images of dead and wounded American soldiers televised each evening to slap us awake. Once we were awakened in a personal attack on a September day. But now, most of us remain in an arm chair. Rather than each of us representing a unit of freedom, of personally changing our lives to better our nation, we let “them” do it for us in our uniquely spoiled way.

The “them” has just suffered their 3,800th death. The challenge now goes out to the fat, the lazy, the loud and the certain – give your best to America by sacrificing for the war. Burns ends his segments with an inspiring song that each of us should strive to make our own theme: “America, America, I gave my best to you. America, America, I gave my best to you.”

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a communications strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at hottline@aol.com

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.