Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What you can do for your country

"Let every nation know ... that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty" (John F. Kennedy inaugural speech, 1961)

In 2011, President Obama turned President Kennedy's words into action and ordered Navy Seals into Pakistan to identify and kill Osama bin Laden. Their success makes the moment feel great by putting an end to a manhunt that began with mass murder on 9-11.

We are excited about what the Seals did. But are we really living up to the pledge made on our behalf 50 years ago?

For most Americans, this has been a comfortable war. Young men and women still go to great colleges like the Ivy League and then grad school. Most haven't gone to war.

For most of the young volunteers now wearing a military uniform, there is no quick or flawless in and out of anything. They regularly face the pain of long separations from those they love. Sadly, when they do come home, many carry both physical and psychological wounds.

Americans hope our troops and our veterans will be okay and promise that somebody will take care of them. But Republican Congressman Paul Ryan worries more about cutting funding for the Veterans Administration than about their increasing long-term medical needs.

What a perfect war it is—fought mostly by other people's children and fought with mysterious off-budget money.

We Americans chant "USA! USA!" and "We're number one!" And then we watch whatever important game is on the tube, eat popcorn, have a beer or a glass of wine, and complain about our taxes.

Thank heavens we have warriors who risk their lives on our behalf. Thank heavens we have public servants willing to accept the responsibility that showed so clearly on the faces of those in the picture of the situation room as they followed the fates of the Seals President Obama had sent into harm's way.

But let us not use their sacrifice as an ongoing excuse for us to do nothing. Our call in these times remains as it was in 1961: "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

Let us hope it is more than complaining about our taxes.

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