Service, Sacrifice Must Include Privileged
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Every day, as people in Washington talk about how to end the war in Iraq, military men and women continue to pack up their gear and go there. Some line up at Baltimore/Washington International Airport with their rifles in long metal cases.
Unidentified Man: What type of weapon in there?
Unidentified Woman: That one's the M-16.
Unidentified Man: And you have a M-9 in that one?
Unidentified Woman: That's right.
MONTAGNE: At this airport, some civilians reach out to shake a soldier's hand or offer a quick thanks. It's a good place to start a conversation about service, sacrifice and support at this stage of the war.
NPR's Neva Grant spoke to service members headed for Iraq and also civilians traveling elsewhere.
Ms. JOAN MASON BAINES(ph): I think it's because I don't have any family members or know anyone in the military that I probably don't support as much as I should.
NEVA GRANT: May I take your name, ma'am?
Ms. BAINES: Joan Mason Baines. I do look at them. Give them words of encouragement. Just non-verbally I just look at them. I don't actually speak to them.
CATHY(ph): What's interesting is my boys are that 20-something age, and if we had a mandatory draft, my boys would be there.
GRANT: And may I take your name?
CATHY: Cathy. I'm really divided because I would not want my boys going over there, and their friends are the ones that are over there now. And my son said to me, you know, we've got to be supportive for John(ph) because he hates it right now.
GRANT: And for you right now, what does supportive mean?
CATHY: You know, you just almost have to verbalize it. We have to just do it by words.
Mr. JEFF MCBRIDE(ph): My name is Jeff McBride. We're going to be a facility engineering team in Iraq.
GRANT: You've mentioned that it's very helpful to have complete strangers come up and say thank you.
Mr. MCBRIDE: I've had a lot of people come up in the airport, but I also had a lot of people in the local community where we are - people from church, or people that I know. They know that I'm going over there to serve and they're like, if you need anything, if your wife needs anything, just give us a call.
Mr. ROBIN ATKINS(ph): My name is Robin Atkins. I just got out of high school. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm trying to do with my life. I'm definitely grateful for the soldiers being there. And there are so many people that are sitting on their asses here that aren't even helping.
GRANT: Have you ever considered going into the military yourself?
Mr. ATKINS: Personally, I don't think I'm cut out for the Army. If I went in the Army, I don't think I'd come back.
Staff Sergeant MICHEAL ZANLIK(ph) (U.S. Army): I'm Staff Sergeant Michael Zanlik, and I work in the explosive ordinance disposal (unintelligible), which is pretty much the military bomb squad. I chose my career and I chose being in the bomb squad. That's what make our country great that everybody isn't obligated to go and serve. That makes us different and, in my opinion, a little bit better than most other countries around the world.
Staff Sergeant NICOLE WALDEN(ph) (U.S. Army): I'm Staff Sergeant Nicole Walden. I dropped my kids off a week and a half ago because my husband and I are both deploying. So my kids had to go stay with their grandparents.
GRANT: Tell me again their ages.
Ms. WALDEN: Three and one. I wake up in the morning and they're not there and I just - it's unreal. We could complain all day long and say that people don't get it, but there's a lot of people - I mean, just today, okay, a woman came and sat with me when I was eating my dinner. And she said you look like you could use a friend.
GRANT: A total stranger came up and sat down?
Ms. WALDEN: She's prior military, retired. So she kind of understands, right?
MONTAGNE: Voices of travelers at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. We played this tape for two scholars who've written about military service and public opinion in wartime. First, sociologist Charles Moskos. He believes when the U.S. fights, it should draft people for the military and national service. His response to those airport travelers…
Professor CHARLES MOSKOS (Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Northwestern University): What struck me was that the civilian responses were so hypocritical. Oh it's good that somebody's fighting and dying for us so I don't have to do it myself. I call that patriotism lite, L-I-T-E. Those who are not serving are not willing to do any sacrifice, don't really pay much attention to those who are dying, and that reflects poorly, I think, on American character today.
MONTAGNE: Of those voices that we've heard just a moment ago, to my ear some of them sounded just a bit lost, like they didn't know what they could possibly do.
Prof. MOSKOS: Well, short of signing up, I think what we say let's raise our taxes, let's have gasoline rationing, and let us try to encourage the children of Congress to join the military. You have to have privileged youths serve as well as people throughout the social spectrum. I want to see Congress' kids in there. I want to see Jenna Bush and Chelsea Clinton there.
MONTAGNE: Some civilians are doing more than just putting yellow stickers on their bumpers. They're sending, perhaps, packages to troops or making donations to the USO. Perhaps lobbying employers to hire veterans from the war. Is that serving in any sense?
Prof. MOSKOS: No. It's - those kinds of steps, while obviously appreciated by soldiers, is not the same as having our privileged youth serving. It's a way of avoiding the issue. So here, I'll give you a package instead of my own son or daughter.
MONTAGNE: Charles Moskos is professor emeritus of sociology at Northwestern University. We also invited political scientist Chris Gelpi to respond to those civilians at the airport and service members headed for Iraq.
Professor CHRIS GELPI (Political Science, Duke University): I do think that we are sort of a little bit at a loss for what to do to show support, especially if we don't support the goals of the missions but we want to support the troops. And we heard some of those things have just, you know, people saying something in an airport. Or I've been on airplanes where, you know, uniformed soldiers have come on and the plane sort of spontaneously broke out in applause for them. Those are small ways, but I think it's true that when people are struggling in this war to find a way to say that we don't blame those who are serving their country for a mission that has gone wrong.
MONTAGNE: One of the expressions we do here, people do say quite commonly, I support the troops. And then a fair share of people say I support the troops by wanting them to come home.
Prof. GELPI: Well, on one level, I think that makes a great deal of sense if one believes that the Iraq war is a mission that cannot be accomplished by our armed forces, which I think is a growing view. On another level though, it is tricky because the troops themselves are not yet ready to quit. If you look at, for example, statistics on support for the president's decision to increase the number of troops in Iraq, support for that was much, much higher among the military than it was among civilians.
Now, they're not tremendously optimistic about the likelihood that it will work. They're not much more optimistic than civilians are, but they want to stay and try. That's who they are as the military is taking the missions that civilian leaders give them and trying to succeed at them.
MONTAGNE: Was this a missed opportunity, that is for four-plus years of war, could there have been ways offered to serve, to sacrifice that were not there?
Prof. GELPI: Well, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, there may have been an opportunity for the government to provide a way for Americans to serve their country because I think there was such a sense of wanting to do something positive to respond. Certainly by now the opportunity is gone. But I would agree that there has not been an equality of service or of sort of burdens being carried. We, as Americans, need to find more concrete ways to do that. Say, other countries like Germany where there is mandatory service but it can be provided in a variety of ways. Those kinds of systems might be a way to have Americans provide some public service without necessarily having to serve in the military.
MONTAGNE: Chris Gelpi is professor of political science at Duke University. Tomorrow we pick up where we've left off, with a conversation about national service and volunteering here in the U.S.
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