When Japan finally surrendered at the end of World War Two, patriotic, cheering crowds thronged the streets to celebrate — including, most famously, in New York's Times Square.
When news broke on Sunday that U.S. forces had finally killed Osama bin Laden, chanting, cheering crowds figured they'd follow suit.
But that's where the similarity ends.
Americans made real sacrifices in the Second World War. Millions served under arms. Most families had soldiers in harm's way, and many lost them. Even those in civilian work at home bore direct burdens. They accepted rationing and lowered standards of living to help the war. They accepted high taxes. While the Federal Government ran up huge deficits, these were largely financed here by private sector savings here at home.
Now consider the legacy of the past 10 years and our "war on terror."
Few served under arms. We do not have the draft. And perhaps we don't need one for this war.
But what other sacrifices has the population made? ...
Linda Bilmes, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School and one of the leading experts on the topic, says the direct costs of "war on terror" have so far exceeded $2 trillion. She believes that when the full tab is compiled, including the costs of a lifetime of medical care for the wounded, the costs will come to $5 trillion to $6 trillion.
How much of this burden have the rest of us actually paid?
None of it. On the eve of 9/11, U.S. gross federal debt stood at $5.5 trillion. Today it's around $14 trillion. In other words, over the past 10 years we've put more than $8 trillion on the national credit card. That's maybe four times the total direct costs of the "war on terror" to date, and more than the total likely bill.
And of course, unlike in World War Two, our government has been forced to borrow most of this money from abroad, because during the same period American businesses and households also went on a debt orgy. ...
In other words, not only have we not made material sacrifices for this war — we've taken it as an excuse to party.
Perhaps this is why no "relief rally" turned up on Wall Street on Monday, to the consternation of the commentators. Relief from what? Compare this infantile behavior to the discipline, maturity, dedication and sacrifice of those under arms who are actually fighting the war on Al Quaida.
The Pentagon says that 4,704 American servicemen and women have been killed in action in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Leave aside, please, the dispute about whether Iraq was necessary. The troops served heroically). Another 43,184 have been wounded. Many of those have been wounded grievously, coming home without eyes, or limbs, or with head traumas, or with other terrible injuries, to pick up the pieces they can of their shattered lives.
The numbers don't even scratch at the cost. For each serviceman or woman killed or wounded, think of all the loved ones whose lives, too, will never be the same. The heartache will last as long as they live. - Brett Arends
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