"What will it say to our soldiers?" says one senator, in an attempt to prevent even a debate about the Democrat's possible no confidence resolution about the war.
This question draws only silence from the Democrats, the party that was elected to a majority almost exclusively as a referendum against the war in Iraq. The public had no problem voting to express their lack of support for the war, and yet the Democrats know it would be political suicide to appear as though they don't support the troops.
Why are we morally required to support the soldiers but not morally required to support the war they're fighting? Statistically, a majority of the public believes we have a war on our hands that we cannot win, that hasn't served the larger purpose of a safer world and that was based on mistaken information. Our policy makers falter because this is all ok to publicly state. But it is not ok for a soldier to hear. So the debate is choked.
The cause of this failure is the ever growing disjunction between action and consequence in American culture. The unquestionable exaltation of the soldiers is a result of the separation of lifestyle, class and experience between the insulated citizens of this country and its defenders in the military. There is no draft. There are no war rations. There is no way for this war to come knocking on the door of civilian life. There's no way to hold the public accountable for supporting this war because many of its supporters will never have to contribute to it in any way.
After September 11, the president simply asked the public to remain confident and continue spending. Every generation, less and less is asked of the public in the work of maintaining the nation. That is why it feels so irreverent and taboo to question the efforts of the soldiers, despite the fact that most support for the war is lost.
Unlike the demands laid at the door of the country in World War II, no one is carpooling to save gas rations and kids don't collect aluminum cans on bicycles; we are asked only to continue spending so that our economy can expand and maintain a lifestyle of accessibility and abundance. And I think in the corner of the collective conscience people know there is something wrong with that.
The public understands that some sacrifice is being made to maintain the privileged American way of life, but they know they aren't making it. And because the public has so little to do with the support of the nation, we get the reversal of democratic normality. Instead of the soldiers serving the wishes of the republic, the republic serves what it believes to be the wishes of the soldiers, allowing its treasury to drain to maintain a war it doesn't support.
The representatives of the people are allowed to criticize the war but not allowed to "undermine" it. They can say nothing that would dishearten the soldiers. Why? Because it is no longer a war for the public. It's for the soldiers - the only ones contributing in a system based on participation. And no one, including the civilian leadership, feels at liberty to question them.
As the war continues, our soldiers are asked to stretch their service to keep evidence of the cost of war away from our eyes. The backdoor draft has gotten to the point where, last week, thousands of troops who had boarded planes for home were called back for terms of extended service after reaching their destinations.
We are so far from the reality of our decisions that it's no wonder that the American respect for its military culture has accelerated soldiers to the status of legends.
The nation's war can be an error of carelessness, ethnocentrism and executive deceit, but the soldier's war is one of unquestionable honor in the eyes of the public.
The paralysis of the nation, the inability to even discuss the problem we face stems from a disjunction in our thinking. We wanted to enter a war but we didn't want to fight it. Now we're stuck with our choice, knowing we have no rightful place to discourage the only ones who did.