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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Definition of silence

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Iraq
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What is the definition of silence?

That would be Vice President Dick Cheney, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich getting together to swap war stories, or simply to reminisce about their military service.

Each of these distinguished political leaders -- all three enthusiastic backers of the U.S. war in Vietnam during their youth and forceful advocates of the U.S. war against Iraq in their later years -- had been, as young men, eligible for the nation's military draft, and yet none of them spent a day in uniform.

What brings this up is the news that the U.S. Army has, for four months in a row, failed to reach its recruiting goals.

Recruitment for the Army Reserves and the National Guard, which between them constitute nearly half of U.S. troops now deployed in Iraq, are down, respectively, 21 percent and 24 percent.

Even the Marines, who had met their recruitment goals every month for 11 years, have failed to meet recent monthly enlistment quotas.

Virtually all of the more than 1,700 Americans killed in Iraq belonged to one of these four service groups.

But the Bush-Cheney administration brims with ideas to address the manpower shortages. The Army has increased its College Fund for which soldiers can qualify from $50,000 to $70,000. Doubling the enlistment bonus for certain recruits from $20,000 to $40,000 has been proposed.

The maximum enlistment age for the Army Reserve and the National Guard has been raised from 34 to 39. The Army has raised the maximum age to attend officers candidate school from 29 to 42. But the shortfall persists.

This is not the way it was supposed to work. A wise and just manpower policy is the foundation of our national defense. The all-volunteer army, it was agreed, was to be a peacetime operation.

Any sustained military engagement would call for a resumption of the draft. The reasoning was direct: If the goals of the nation are worth fighting for, then we ought not to hesitate to ask all Americans to share equally in the obligation and the perils of that fighting.

War is hellish and hateful. But even more hateful is the hypocrite who endorses, encourages and champions war, while avoiding any personal involvement or risk for himself, his relatives or his friends.

In 2005, the American establishment -- political, economic and journalistic -- has with only a handful of admirable exceptions no personal stake in the armed forces of the United States.

The incontrovertible premise of the administration's war policy, for everyone except those who do serve and their loved ones, is that sacrifice is only for suckers.

In George W. Bush's wartime, no inconvenience, let alone sacrifice, is asked of citizens, and patriotism is painless and can be profitable.

All of this brings to mind the heroic example of the late Paul H. Douglas, who served three memorable terms in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from Illinois. Right after Pearl Harbor, Douglas, a Quaker who was already a professor at the University of Chicago and an elected Chicago alderman, enlisted as a private in the Marine Corps.

He went through boot camp at Parris Island and fought in combat in Pacific landings at Peleliu and Okinawa. He was wounded so severely that he lost permanently the use of his right arm. He won the Bronze Star. Here is the kicker: When Paul Douglas enlisted in the Marines, he was 50 years old.

Now is the time for President George W. Bush to create by executive order the Paul Douglas Brigade, which would actively seek and welcome the enlistment into today's short-handed military the middle-age members of Congress, card-carrying journalists and captains of commerce who missed the chance to serve in their own youth -- because of their commitments to career or comfort -- and could now help prosecute the war they endorsed.

That single act could simultaneously cure the shortage of military manpower and deplete the surplus of civilian hypocrisy. Not a bad deal.


Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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