Empty Cheers for the Troops

We're great at applauding America's military, but not good at making actual sacrifices during wartime.

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A jet does a flyover at Soldier Field before an NFL football game between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts in Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012.

I went to Soldier Field in Chicago on Sunday to watch the Chicago Bears play the Detroit Lions. The stadium is named to honor America's veterans. There was a military flyover during the National Anthem. To celebrate the Veterans Day holiday, a World War II vet from the Pacific campaign was introduced and recognized by the crowd.

Through it all, I just kept thinking, "This feels too easy." To put a finer point on it, I began to revisit a policy thought I have had before: Have we made a mistake by going to an all volunteer military?

Let me be clear about several things: I would be a lousy soldier. Most people I know would be lousy soldiers. And I have enormous respect for the professionalism of our men and women who are making a career in the armed forces.

My concern is simply that we are less thoughtful about how we engage our military forces when most of us face zero risk as a consequence of the decisions we make. I also fear that we will not devote sufficient resources to the needs of our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, again because these needs are not evenly distributed throughout the population.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

As a country, we're great at cheering during the National Anthem, especially when there is a flyover. We are less good at writing checks to the government to address long-term social challenges. And by all accounts, the mental, physical and social needs of our returning veterans are profound.

Should we return to the draft? Not for combat. We should not be plucking men and women out of office parks and sending them into battle zones. There is tremendous efficiency in building a professional, voluntary military force. The country should be defended by the people who are best at it.

But I would absolutely support any kind of policy that spreads the sacrifice. During times of combat, we could have a draft to fill the jobs left undone when active duty soldiers ship out, or to perform ancillary tasks that help soldiers in combat.

[See a collection of political cartoons on women in combat.]

We could have an income tax surcharge that is levied whenever our soldiers are fighting a war – to pay for that war, to support soldiers' families and to ensure funding for the long term needs of our veterans.

I just believe that our foreign policy discussions would be different if the military implications of those discussions were not so easily outsourced. Would the guy talking so tough at the water cooler about intervening in Syria feel the same way if he had to pay a 5 percent war tax or faced  the prospect of serving six months doing laundry at an Army base in South Carolina?

When the National Anthem and flyover at Soldier Field was done, and the World War II vet had been wheeled off the field, the sum total of my responsibility for protecting the country was over. I don't think that's healthy for our soldiers or our veterans.

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