I. Wars Without Suffering

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Andy Cross / Denver Post via Getty Images

U.S. Marines ready their tanks in northern Kuwait on March 18, 2003, as they prepare to invade Iraq within 24 hours.

Part 1 of 3

America’s wars are ending: the invasion of Iraq, launched 10 years ago Tuesday, is but a memory, Afghanistan is winding down, and will soon join her sister in the trash bin of forgotten wars.

Only the occasional news story, black wrist band, or sun-washed bumper sticker will be left to briefly remind us that we—all of us, not just the politicians—were sending people to fight and die on our behalf for over a decade.

It seems as if this transition can’t happen soon enough.

Americans are ready to move on; they are weary of war. Yet what exactly is draining our resolve? What do we ask of ourselves as our troops stride into harm’s way?

The average American pays no price, suffers no hardship, lifts no finger in support of combat operations in Afghanistan, nor did he or she when America was neck-deep in Iraq.

This is not a healthy state for our nation, nor the world order that depends on her vitality and judgment. It is not right for the patriotic diligence of a few volunteers to shield everyone else from the harsh reality outside our carefully-protected world.

I reflected on this isolation recently while visiting Arlington National Cemetery. I was walking through Section 60 to visit the tombs of several friends killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a calm day; the sea of war dead quietly lapped at the asphalt road, and I couldn’t help but feel that this was somehow a dream. The condensed grief of Arlington’s gentle hills have no place in an America full of Facebook, deficits, and celebrity gossip.

But why not?

What happened?

How did we arrive at such a pathetic state?

More than 315 million people, American citizens and residents, enjoy relative stability thanks to a civil-military foundation that is crumbling under our feet. We are squandering the inheritance earned for us by hundreds of thousands of war dead, lost under our flag for more than 200 years, led by our most courageous and patriotic citizens.

Through the echo chamber of history, their lonely voices call for remembrance and a commitment to the ideals for which they fought and died. The best of us ask this. The ones who answered the call. The ones now lost forever.

Unfortunately, the calls of American war dead go unanswered. The truth is that we have checked out of the war in Afghanistan—if we could even justify the claim to have been engaged in the first place—just as we checked out of the war in Iraq. We may hear about it occasionally or have an opinion, but it is a passing fancy, not the careful discussion of life-and-death policy reverberating around the globe.

Clucking our tongues about misguided wars or the poor boys and girls who fight them won’t stop the next one from being fought the same way, with the same intolerable consequences. If we don’t understand how we got here, then we will continue committing troops on credit, and charging it all to less than 1% of the population comprising the armed forces.

As Americans, we must make fundamental changes to the way our nation goes to war:

— Too few sacrifice too much for too many.

— For too long we have heard the same stories about IEDs, ambiguous military strategies, devastating injuries, corrupt politicians, and tenuous progress.

— For too long we have seen pictures of the wounded returning home forever changed, the dead buried in wave after tragic wave at our national cemeteries.

— For too long we have known, from a distance, of families grieving and broken.

— And for too long we have changed the channel, turned off the radio, or opened a new browser window to check Facebook.

Real change won’t be easy, but it is possible. We can craft a system that forces every single citizen, especially those most responsible for war-making, to consider the costs they will bear as America gears up for the inevitable next fight.

Part 1: Wars Without Suffering

Part 2: War by Any Other Name

Part 3: Paying War’s Price

William Treseder served as a Marine sergeant from 2001 to 2011, deploying to Iraq in 2008, and to Afghanistan in 2010-11. He now works for a defense technology firm in San Francisco, and can be reached at william.treseder@gmail.com.