Transition: And Another Year of War
By Dirk Johnson

NewsweekDec. 27 / Jan. 3 issue - You hear the bell ring, or a knock at the door, and there stands a military officer with a crisp uniform, a grim face. Even before this dreadful moment of truth, some families have feared the worst: an unaccustomed telephone or e-mail silence, or just a deep-in-the-bones intuition that something's wrong. And now the words are spoken.

That silence will never end, the tears never quite dry.

In the past year, more than 800 American troops came home from Iraq or Afghanistan in caskets. The death toll of American soldiers now exceeds 1,400. Hundreds of Iraqi police and military have been killed, along with a much larger number of civilians—how many, it's hard even to estimate. In the name of freedom, as President Bush proclaims, dead American troops are lauded as heroes—and no one can argue. Whatever the merits of the American policy, they made the ultimate sacrifice.

One was the Arizona Cardinals' Pat Tillman, who decided it was trivial to play pro football while others were laying their lives on the line. According to the elegiac initial accounts, he died in a fire fight with enemy forces; we now know he was shot accidentally, by "friendly fire." This doesn't detract from his heroism or his sacrifice. But there is also no denying: Pat Tillman died for a mistake.

Tillman was the rare celebrity exception among the GI Joes and Janes: This war hasn't piqued the patriotism of many latter-day Glenn Millers and Ted Williamses. Some 20 percent of those killed were reservists, attracted in part by such benefits as college tuition. It's fair to assume recruiters didn't dwell on the chances of their being sent overseas to brave bullets and bombs—often with substandard armor and equipment. In almost every American neighborhood—rich, poor, middle class—cars sport yellow ribbons to show support for the troops. But those troops come disproportionately from the poorer parts of big cities and from speck-on-the-map towns: Makoti, N.D.; Bartonville, Ill.; Moose Lake, Minn.; Rupert, Idaho. America's vast and prosperous suburbs are largely missing in action. Today's volunteer military mirrors the Vietnam-era draft, where the privileged and educated found ways to avoid combat.

The big difference is the presence of women—who account for about 15 percent of the dead. Not so long ago, prevailing wisdom held that Americans would never abide female soldiers' having to dodge bullets. Wrong. "Putting women in danger on the battlefield has not caused much upset," says Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University. "There's been no particular uproar." Holly McGeogh, barely out of high school, wrote an e-mail to her grandparents from Iraq last winter. "I can't believe I'm only 19 and have my combat patch. What's even cooler is that I will be only 20 when I do get out... I will have accomplished so much in my life. Cool, huh?" McGeogh liked shopping and the outdoors, hunting with her dad. It was the life she longed to return to in her little hometown of Taylor, Mich. She came home in January. An American flag was draped across her casket.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.
I'm sure privatizing Social Security and setting up individual tax-exempt health-care accounts will correct this problem:

Blacks dying for lack of health care
Disparities cost 886,000 lives in the U.S. in '90s

More than 886,000 deaths could have been prevented from 1991 to 2000 if African Americans had received the same care as whites, according to an analysis in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The study estimates that technological improvements in medicine -- including better drugs, devices and procedures -- averted only 176,633 deaths during the same period.

Can we for once have a solution that will focus on those who need help, not those who can afford help......?