While our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will likely play a very small role in the presidential election, the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales shows the consequence of divorcing our military conflicts from our society, and often, even from our politics.
The accused soldier served four tours of duty in 10 years, was wounded twice and suffered from financial problems — a home foreclosure. His circumstances do not excuse his alleged crimes, but they likely mitigate them legally. But my point is not a legal one; it is a moral one. What are we doing to the men and women who serve our country and to their families? Are we willing to truly accept the responsibility of honoring their sacrifice?
Unlike in the Vietnam era, there is widespread respect and concern for our soldiers — small gestures: In airports, I often see people thank people in uniform; and larger ones: significant corporate and personal philanthropy to help wounded veterans. But this concern should not be limited to private gestures. Congress and the administration have not fully accepted responsibility for a decade of war. Yes, they have increased funding for veterans’ care, but much more will be needed. As will more be required to help those who are able to return to civilian employment.
But it’s still too easy to avoid the full consequences of the nation's decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because our military is voluntary, our decisions to deploy it are relatively exempt from the usual political checks and balances. And that, in turn, allows the problem of thousands of men and women who did their duty and did not snap, but who remain without limbs, sight, hearing, normal brain function — to say nothing of their families who deal with the consequences— to remain mostly forgotten in the presidential race. That is a moral outrage, or, if you prefer, a sin.