A few days ago, as I do every day in Iraq, I listened to the commander's battle update. The briefer calmly and professionally described the day's events. Somewhere in Iraq, on some forgotten, dusty road, an insurgent fighting an occupying army detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) under a Humvee, killing an American soldier. The briefer fielded a question from the general and moved to the next item in the update.
The day before that, in America, a 15-year-old's incredibly rich parents planned the biggest sweet 16 party ever. They will spend more than $200,000 on an opulent event marking a single year in an otherwise unremarkable life. The soon-to-be-16 girl doesn't know where Iraq is and doesn't care. That same day an American soldier died in Iraq.
Two days earlier, a 35-year-old man went shopping for home entertainment equipment. He had the toughest time selecting the correct plasma screen; he could afford the biggest and best of everything. In the end, he had it installed by a specialty store. He spent about $50,000 on the whole system. He has never met anybody serving in the military nor served himself, but thinks we should "turn the whole place into a parking lot." That day, another American soldier died in Iraq.
Three days earlier, some college students had a great kegger. There were tons of babes at the party, the music was awesome. Everybody got totally blitzed, and many missed class the next day. The young men all registered for the draft when they were 18, but even though our nation is at war, they aren't the least bit worried about the draft. It is politically impossible to conscript young people today, we are told. That day, another American "volunteer" died in Iraq.
Four days earlier, a harried housewife looked all over town for the perfect accessory for her daughter's upcoming recital. Her numerous chores wore her out, but she still found herself preoccupied. Her oldest son is having trouble in his first year of college, and he has been talking of enlisting in the Army. She is terrified that her child will go off to that horrible war she sees on TV. She and her husband decide to give their son more money so he doesn't have to work part-time; maybe that will help with his studies. That day, another soldier died.
Yesterday millions of Americans celebrated Independence Day. They attended parties and barbecues. Families came together from all across the country to celebrate the big day. Millions of dollars were spent on fireworks. At public events, there were speeches honoring the people who served and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. These words mostly fell on bored ears. While the country celebrated its own greatness, other Americans were still fighting in Iraq.
Today Americans go back to their normal business. The politicians in Washington have made sure the sacrifices of the war are borne by the very smallest percentage of Americans. They won't even change the tax rates to prevent deficits from running out of control. Future generations will pay the cost of this war.
Many Americans feel strongly about the war one way or another, but they aren't signing up their children for service or taking the protest to the streets. What can they do? It is they whom we in the military trust to influence our leaders in Washington.
Today, as on every other day in Iraq, American servicemen are in very real danger. Our country is at war. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands and children are worrying about their loved ones in a faraway land. They all hope he or she isn't the one whose luck runs out today.
The writer is an Air Force captain stationed in Iraq.