Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: Shields: Moral Logic of Common Sacrifice

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Shields: Moral Logic of Common Sacrifice

Mark Shields wrote a very interesting piece this past Monday on the vast socioeconomic chasm that lies between those who make the decisions to go to war and those who are most impacted by those decisions.
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.

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.

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?

I've said some of this before. Where is the common cause? Where is the call for this country to sacrifice -- even just a little bit -- for something that is being shouldered by so few? Where are this war's versions of victory gardens? Instead, we just get a few tax dollars back and a pat on the ass, saying, "Go on, spend money! Buy that new television! Or maybe a nice American flag or ribbon magnet to show you support the troops..."
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."
Let's look back in history. How many sons of powerful families fought in America's wars of the past? Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, John Kennedy, HW Bush, Pierce, Benjamin Harrison... and those are just former Presidents. Contrast that to a scene I witnessed several years ago:

I was visiting a friend at Stanford University, and at an on-campus party we witnessed an extremely drunken frat boy stumble onto the dance floor, running into people and spilling beer as he shouted out mangled lyrics to the song playing at the time -- Outkast's "Bombs over Baghdad". My friend turned to me, and said, "You want to know something funny? That's Paul Wolfowitz's son."

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