Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"The Response Has Been a Collective Shrug"

David Brooks and Bob Herbert’s recent conversation is on the war in Afghanistan, and they argue that in order for Americans to really feel they have a tangible stake in this war, there needs to be sacrifice.

President Obama has said the war in Afghanistan is a war of necessity, essential to the security of Americans here at home. If that’s the case, then I think an awful lot of us should be doing an awful lot more.

In the Second World War, those who did not serve in uniform nevertheless endured shortages of fuel, certain types of food and material goods. The nation took great collective pride in the fight against the Nazis and the Japanese. Major industries were converted to war production. Bonds were sold. Taxes were raised. There was very much a sense that “we’re in this together.”

I have always said that this needs to be true for a vast majority of Americans to really care about the war. Like what Brooks says, everyone supports the troops—and that’s all well and fine and good, but unless you are truly touched, feel that you are actively doing something on a sustained basis for those overseas and have a real stake in the outcome, then it’s really hard to feel invested in what’s happening.

Without a reason or an innate interest, people don’t care. That’s true of a lot of things, including politics. Healthcare reform is getting traction because it’s become such a big thing, affecting everyone’s wallets and choices, and those who aren’t paying attention are the ones asleep at the wheel. Why do people suddenly become invested in a subject? Often because it now has directly affected them. That’s why people suddenly start supporting disease research they previously were unaware of before their friend got sick, try to quit smoking when a family member is diagnosed with lung cancer, pay attention to school board elections when their child starts kindergarten.

Brooks offers some suggestions, one of which he calls a “civilian nation-building academy”, which would train people in the various ways they could help rebuild countries. It sounds like something out of the nonprofit sector. While there has been a resurgence of coverage on community service and volunteering (with cover stories in Time, national volunteer week, high-profile broadcast campaigns), that’s not the same as having a mobilized country or workforce. With high unemployment, volunteer numbers are up, but that doesn’t mean that it’s so easy to find a spot helping out for a few hours. And avenues like the Peace Corps and Americorps aren’t for everyone, and they only impact a relatively small amount of people.

But without sacrifice, a large mobilized movement with tangible consequences that affects a great number of people, this collective shrug won’t turn into a fiery stance. We’ve seen how healthcare reform has mobilized people, gotten them to talk and to serious think about the issue, we just need that to happen to the war.

1 comment:

John said...

Not to mention that, sometimes, other industries see a bright side to war-rationing. If it weren't for all the paper drives during the 1940s, WWII-era comics wouldn't be worth a fraction of what they are today and a speculator market might not have ever emerged in the first place!