"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Whose lives, whose fortunes, whose sacred honor are now on the line for our country?

Our Founders were unequivocal. They didn't count on others to take the risks for them. They didn't call for sacrifice from all except their favored constituencies. The Founders came in large part from privileged backgrounds and were willing to lose it all.

It is thus disconcerting that a country that is unwilling to impose conscription is in effect imposing a draft on that small minority of citizens who were good enough to volunteer to serve our nation in the first place.

As Rep. Charles Rangel of New York pointed out last week, "A draft already exists for those currently serving and subject to stop-loss orders and involuntary extensions."

The possibility of getting caught up in one of those stop-loss orders -- where tours of duty are extended -- is written into the fine print when volunteers enlist, so they are not illegal. But in the current circumstances, they are outrageous. Back home, those being held on duty have neighbors and friends who never thought to serve and could thus enjoy a lovely July Fourth weekend at the beach or in the mountains with their families. But God help those already serving.

Volunteers are told suddenly that they are not free to go after their period of duty is up. They are in this position because our political leaders ignored the counsel of military leaders who knew the occupation of Iraq would require more troops than the politicians were willing to commit. When they were selling the war, those politicians did not want to admit how hard things might get. Nor were they willing to be candid about how their expansive foreign policy requires more troops than the administration is willing to pay for.

God forbid that Americans earning, say, more than $1 million a year be asked to pony up a little more in taxes to support a larger military at a time when, we are told over and over, the country is in the middle of a war on terrorism. Millionaires can't be asked to sacrifice even a little bit. No, they deserve to have their taxes cut while others fight and die. And anyone who speaks up in opposition to this injustice risks being called unpatriotic by those who give up absolutely nothing themselves. Patriotism is defined as a solicitude for tidy incomes, a belief in anything Rush Limbaugh says on the radio and a demand that those in charge of the country never be held accountable for their mistakes.

Oh, yes, and the Individual Ready Reserve is also being called up. As Rangel noted, these are Americans who "have already served their complete active duty commitment of four to six years. They have proved their allegiance to this country in a way few others have." Yet the administration "is yanking thousands of these heroes from their homes, jobs, communities and families and placing them in harm's way yet again."

It's said over and over that "9/11 changed us," that we live in "the new normal." But for most of us, there is nothing new about the normal, except perhaps a fear of some new terrorist attack. Could it possibly be that all our praise for our "heroes" who gave of themselves was just hot air? Are we playing our heroes for suckers?

If we mean what we've said in the 34 months since Sept. 11, 2001, you would think that national service would be a central theme in our politics. At the least, you'd think that we would pass a large new GI Bill providing real benefits -- college educations, job ladders, help with homeownership -- for those who give of themselves to the country. Our men and women in the armed forces and police, firefighters and highly skilled teachers who try to lift up poor kids in inner cities and rural America all deserve honor and appreciation.

If our current leaders are unwilling to ask themselves and other privileged Americans to risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, they at least owe us some candor about the costs of their grand enterprises and greater justice in how those burdens are apportioned.