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Dunsmore: More Than Thanks

11/18/11 7:55AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(Host) For a country at war for the decade since 9/11, Veteran's Day - and Thanksgiving - have special meaning for those Americans and their families who have fought these wars, often at great sacrifice. Yet commentator and retired ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore senses a growing gap between those who have served and those who have not.

(Dunsmore) A recent headline in the Washington Post caught my eye: "Troops feel more pity than respect."

The thrust of the story was that some service members are troubled that the troops are lavished with praise for their sacrifices - but that the praise comes with a price- the public increasingly acts as if it feels sorry for those in uniform.

As the report goes on, "The military's unease springs in part from American indifference to the wars. Battlefield achievements are rarely singled out for praise by a country that has little familiarity with the military and sees little direct benefit from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars."

The story ends with a plea of a battalion commander. He wrote on his Facebook page, "Don't thank me for my service. Don't give me 5% off my Starbucks. Don't worry about yellow ribbons. Do me this one favor...talk to your kids about serving their country and their fellow citizens."

I completely understand why military people must indeed tire of hearing "thank you for your service" - a phrase that has become the national mantra of the many people who have not served. The troops hear it endlessly - from TV hosts, famous professional athletes, movie stars and especially politicians. Everyone feels compelled to show respect for those in uniform. Nothing wrong with that. But frankly, I don't think pity is the motivating factor. It is guilt - based on the dirty little secret that most Americans have done almost nothing tangible to help the war effort.

For this I blame President George W. Bush who when declaring the War on Terror ten years ago, inexplicably never asked the American people for any sacrifice whatsoever, to defeat this new evil enemy. In fact, not only did he not raise taxes to pay for his wars, he dramatically cut them. This especially benefitted the very wealthy - and accounts for a substantial part of the crippling national debt the country now faces.

It's interesting that when people are asked in almost any kind of forum or poll if they support America's troops, virtually 100% say yes. But if they are asked if they would be willing to accept a tax increase to pay for the wars those troops have been fighting and the long term medical care the seriously wounded will require - the results are likely to be quite different. That's because a substantial percentage of voters say they're opposed to raising taxes - no matter what the circumstances. While they won't see it this way, in effect, they are saying no to supporting the troops.

I am not normally inclined to raise the issue of patriotism, which is too often the last refuge of a scoundrel. But I would argue that if you consider yourself a patriot, the troops and the country need your help to pay down the huge debt accumulated while fighting the wars of the past decade. Merely saying thank you for your service, is much too easy.
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