By MARSHA MERCER
What’s wrong with this picture? The commander in chief orders 30,000 more troops to war in Afghanistan, and the nation is riveted on a couple of glittery White House party-crashers.
But not entirely. We’re also gripped by a golfer’s extramarital adventures. The day after President Obama’s televised speech, a cable TV network invited viewers to answer this urgent question: Do you accept Tiger Woods’ apology?
And in the nation’s capital, where it’s always about who’s up and who’s down, pundits debate the implications of Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy on next year’s congressional elections.
President Kennedy had it right. Life is unfair.
Fair would be turning first to the men and women in uniform and their families who sacrifice to keep us safe. Fair would be saying thank you to troops for going yet another extra mile. Fair would find everybody on the home front pitching in to try to lessen the burden for those who serve.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that we’re in tough times, and many people have lost their jobs and homes. We all know life is unfair, and everybody needs a break. Few morsels are as delicious as the foibles of the rich and famous. I get why the top search word on Google the other day was “transgressions,” which Tiger Woods used in his online apology. That so many wanted to know the definition would be funny -- if it weren’t a sad commentary on our priorities.
We need to remember what’s important. The disconnect between civilian and military life occurs partly because we have an all-volunteer force. Only one-half of 1 percent of Americans serve in the military. With such a small group bearing so heavy a burden, it’s easy – unless you live near a military base -- to live as if the nation were at peace.
Meanwhile, tired troops endure multiple, revolving deployments, and families wait and worry at home. Sadly, they’re used to it. Life is unfair.
Wondering about the context of Kennedy’s remark, I found the transcript of a March 1962 presidential news conference. A reporter asked JFK about protests by military reservists who had been mobilized during the Berlin crisis the previous fall and were eager to be released.
“There is always inequity in life. Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic and some are stationed in San Francisco,” the president said. “It's very hard in military or in personal life to assure complete equality. Life is unfair.”
More than four decades later, military morale is suffering and suicides of active-duty personnel are up for the fifth straight year. The additional troops will head into harm’s way in a war that’s supported by less than half the people.
Fifty-two percent of Americans surveyed by Gallup last month said they thought the cost of the war in Afghanistan in money and lives was not worth it. People were split on whether it would be better to draw down troops (45 percent said yes) or add more troops (46 percent).
Obama tried to rally support by evoking the country’s unity when the war in Afghanistan started, “bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear.”
He said, “I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose.” He’s still an optimist.
His new approach of sending at least 30,000 more troops next year and beginning to withdraw troops in July 2111 is getting kicked from the left and the right. Some Democrats argue we should send no more troops, while Republicans argue that the 18-month timeline to begin withdrawal is too soon and tips our hand.
Rarely mentioned, however, are the men and women who will obey the orders and risk their lives for us. They won’t rake in a fortune or fame or live a luxurious lifestyle. Life is unfair. We owe them.
© 2009 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.