Opinion for Monday — April 26, 2004

• War and sacrifice

War and sacrifice

By the time Pat Tillman’s name showed up on the Pentagon’s official casualty list, the news had been out for hours. Pat Tillman, 27, who gave up $1.2 million a year playing football for the Arizona Cardinals to fight for his country, had made the ultimate sacrifice.

He and other members of the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment were looking for Osama bin Laden near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan when a firefight with local militia broke out. The Cardinals’ No. 40 became the 110th member of the American military to give his life in Afghanistan. More than 700 others have been killed in Iraq.

“Pat knew his purpose in life,” said former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis. “He proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling, which was to protect and defend our country. Pat represents those who have and will make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”

Ah, there’s that word again – sacrifice. Mr. Tillman gave up fame, fortune and family to “be an Airborne Ranger! Live that life of blood and danger!” as the marching cadence puts it. His special-operations unit fought in Iraq last year, was refitted at Fort Lewis, Wash., and then went into the mountains to hunt for bin Laden. Let’s hear no more about the NFL’s “grueling schedule.”

Sacrifice is completely optional these days. No other big-time athlete has gone to war. Only a handful of members of Congress have children in the military. For the most part, the men and women who pay the price are military professionals or children of the working class.

Financial sacrifice? Nah, we fob that off on our children and grandchildren by financing the war with deficits. We don’t collect tires and rubber, don’t ration gas, don’t miss a thing. For most of us, it’s war on the cheap.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., thinks that makes war too easy. Mr. Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, last week called for a national debate on a new draft, one that would include a choice between military and nonmilitary service. A similar idea has been proposed by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y.

Mr. Hagel notes that the war on terrorism could last decades, and the military is already stretched too thin. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who favors a national service approach, says a president would have to think twice before committing troops if the sons and daughters of the privileged classes might be involved.

Here’s another idea worth debating. Conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan, in the April 19 edition of Time magazine, suggests a $1-a-gallon tax on gasoline to pay for the war. “If we do not owe it to our fellow citizens, to the environment, to greater fuel efficiency, can we at least owe it to the troops?” Mr. Sullivan asks. “Or is that minimal level of personal sacrifice too much to ask of ourselves?”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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