Who pays?

Tragic price of war


08/09/05 "Charleston Gazette" -- -- PRINCETON University professor Ewe Reinhardt, an expert on the cost of social systems, says most Americans are unaware of the ugly price of the Iraq war.

In a Washington Post commentary titled “Who’s Paying for Our Patriotism?” Dr. Reinhardt said the majority of Americans are insulated from the human pain and financial cost, thus it’s easy for them to back the war.

A maximum of 500,000 U.S. troops will go to Iraq or Afghanistan, he says. If their families average 20 relatives, only 10 million Americans — out of 300 million population — have a personal emotional stake in the conflict. In other words, just 3 percent of U.S. families live with fear that a son, daughter, nephew, niece or cousin might be killed or maimed.

Similarly, Dr. Reinhardt wrote, Americans don’t feel the $200 billion cost of the conflict, because Washington has “financed the wars not with taxes but by borrowing abroad.”

Thus shielded, great numbers of Americans are free to show nationalistic support for the war, oblivious to the harm involved. The professor says the public doesn’t notice that U.S. troops were sent to Iraq without adequate armor protection, doesn’t notice that “we offer a pittance in disability pay to seriously wounded soldiers,” and doesn’t notice that National Guard members suffer financial loss while separated from their civilian jobs.

With mothers and fathers away in the war zone, Guard and Reserve families in some states are getting charity help, he noted. “Food pantries for American military families?” The Princeton professor concluded:

“I am not at all impressed by people who resolve to have others stay the course in Iraq and Afghanistan. At zero sacrifice, who would not have that resolve?”

On the same day that Dr. Reinhardt’s essay was printed, the Post featured a front-page report on a hotel beside Walter Reed Army hospital, where mangled soldiers stay with their families until they are strong enough to go home. The report featured a teenage Nashville, Tenn., soldier, Lance Cpl. Ryan Autery, who lost his left arm when his Humvee hit a mine at Najaf, Iraq. His companion was killed.

Fitted with an artificial arm, Autery was shattered emotionally by the experience. His worried mother stayed nearly a year with him in the hotel, losing her job at home. Autery had his dead companion’s name tattooed above a cross on his arm.

The Autery family knows the terrible sacrifices involved in the war. But the great majority of Americans, as the Princeton professor noted, cannot realize the cost.

© Copyright 1996-2005 The Charleston Gazette 

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