- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Nearly 1 million members of the U.S. armed forces have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other danger zones since the September 11 terror attacks, a figure that has implications both for the military and society at large, analysts say.

For the first time in 30 years, a significant portion of society will have seen the misery and violence of war for an extended period.

“The only silver lining you can find in these numbers is that, for a generation to come, America will have many, many adults who understand the reality of what war is all about,” said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.

“Today hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors are seeing war up close. They will carry that knowledge into the future as they return to the United States.”

But not everyone. During Vietnam, more Americans knew someone who served, and someone who died. The post-September 11 wars are far less a part of the mainstream American experience, says Charles C. Moskos, a Northwestern University professor who researches the military and society.

“It’s not a generational experience,” he said.

More than 3.4 million people, including draftees, served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. More than 58,000 died. About 700,000 Americans served in the Persian Gulf during the 1991 war with Iraq, but many came home quickly after the liberation of Kuwait. Of those, 382 died.

Since September 11, 2001, military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined are close to 1,500.

Today’s military is billed an all-volunteer, professional force, though tens of thousands of members of the National Guard and reserves are serving in Iraq.

“The reality is you will have had a group of Americans who bore almost all of the burden of citizenship,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “For most Americans it is being fought by other families’ sons and daughters, who are both out of sight and often out of mind.”

He described the situation as “a society which pays a fraction of its population to take all the real risks of citizenship.”

The press can tell only so much of their story to the rest of the country.

“I don’t think you have much information as to what it means to spend six months in a combat zone. You can’t easily communicate what it means to come back with serious and debilitating wounds and have to live with the aftermath,” Mr. Cordesman said. More than 10,000 U.S. service members have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The demographics of the soldiers have changed since earlier wars. More women are going to war. More young men and women are leaving spouses and children at home.

“Going overseas [for a married soldier] is going to be more traumatic than it would be for a single soldier,” Mr. Moskos said.

Still, he said, “the social background of the troops is basically the same. These are solid, working-class men and women. They are not in any sense the bottom of the barrel, but they are not the children of the privileged, either.”

Another difference: The troops overseas are not interacting with the indigenous cultures the way they have in the past. Americans saw most of the world during World War II; GIs walked around Saigon during the Vietnam War. Most of Baghdad today is too dangerous. Even allied countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan minimize any U.S. presence for fear of angering the public.

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