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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Moral logic of common sacrifice



• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


United States

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- In his landmark book on the infantryman, "Mud Soldiers," George Wilson quoted Col. Steve Siegfried, a combat veteran, on why the United States must reinstate the military draft in wartime: "Armies don't fight wars. Countries fight wars. I hope to hell we learned that in Vietnam. ... A country fights a war. If it doesn't, then we shouldn't send an army."

The current war in Iraq is the first since the war with Mexico in 1846 that the United States has waged without a draft or tax increases.

War demands equality of sacrifice. Nobody knows that hard truth better than Jim Webb. Long before he was secretary of the navy in the Reagan administration, Webb was a 1968 graduate of the Naval Academy.

As a Marine platoon leader and company commander in Vietnam, he earned the Navy Cross, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and, after multiple surgeries, a medical discharge.

Webb has recognized the severing of the link between the people in power who make the decision to go to war and the people in uniform, who pay the price for that decision.

Deploring the habit of Washington policymakers to reduce flesh and blood to abstractions, Webb once corrected: "You don't use 'force,' you send people. You send young people who have dreams, who want a future."

The people who make the fateful decision for the nation to go to war are, themselves, subject to no personal consequences. Their children and the children of their friends are not at risk. Without apparent embarrassment, they champion a policy of military escalation with no personal participation.

As of this writing, 1,827 Americans have been killed in Iraq -- 1,686 of those deaths have occurred since President George W. Bush landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner proclaiming, "Mission Accomplished."

Military service in wartime is not a "job." Recruitment in peacetime mostly emphasizes the benefits of valuable training, college tuition, self-improvement, pay and adventure. Combat and casualties are not part of the pitch.

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of enlistees come from the lower-middle-class and blue-collar families. The affluent stand above and apart from military service, especially from the enlisted ranks -- the privates and the sergeants, from whose ranks have come more than 90 percent of the casualties and fatalities. This class exemption from service and from sacrifice produces an ethical failure that a democratic and moral people cannot tolerate.

Moral logic tells us that when the nation legally goes to war, it is everybody's war and it must be everybody's risk. But the elite of the country seeks to make war little more than a spectator sport.

Citizens on the home front who do not have loved ones in the service are asked to pay no price, to bear no burden. The Bush administration does not even ask us to pick up the cost of the war, already in the hundreds of billions. That burden will be borne instead by our children. We, patriots, will keep our tax cuts. Do our leaders think so little of us that they are afraid to ask us to make any real sacrifice?

That those who called most loudly for this war are not standing in line to volunteer at the recruiting offices is noted by the nation's premier military sociologist (and ex-Army draftee) Charles Moskos.

"Only when the privileged classes perform military service, only when elite youth are on the firing line, does the country define the cause as worth young peoples' blood and do war losses become acceptable," observes Moskos, adding that "the answer to what constitutes vital national interests is found not so much on the cause, itself, but in who is willing to die for that cause."

We act as a nation when, as a people, we truly share the obligations and the perils of our common security.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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