The buzz of my car radio on the road or the silence-devouring TV at home echoed some version of the phrase again and again.
“We are bound and privileged to honor our vets,” the blonde on TV said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude,” said the often-snarky talking head on TV.
I wondered what troops coming home might do with the bundle of honor they were owed? Usually debts of gratitude are paid in a brass currency we call “honor.”
Americans honor their warriors freely and generously. Honor, after all, is cheap. America has a large share of ersatz honor to lavish on its vets.
Where it found this commodity is puzzle. We are, after all, the nation that kills thousands with bombs dropped from unmanned airplanes or weapons of mass destruction.
What if we paid our fighting men in the species Americans most treasure - cash. I suggest we start with $100,000 for those who do their soldiering stateside in places like New Jersey, Beeville, Texas, or Norfolk, Va.
That might sound like a chunk of money to pay a PFC, but it’s not much money to the driver of a water truck in the oil patch. A teenage girl in eastern North Dakota can make that kind of money.
Most electricians, plumbers or house painters wouldn’t sign for less. This would be a fair wage for someone apt to be shipped to a Third World country with its air full of bullets.
But home pay is only a start. Ship our troops to someplace where IUDs are as thick as potholes on roads through hostile country or toss in a million Kalashnikovs, Agent Orange and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and we’re talking NFL salaries. Those losing limbs could negotiate.
Does anyone suppose Mitt Romney’s five sons would apply for billets in our new military? No? Probably not. An entrepreneur and job creator doesn’t take a cut in pay. Their daddy taught them better than that.
The new decent wage would please more than the soldiers. When war loomed, the Joint Chiefs and Congress would gather around long wooden tables and talk strategy. In the end, they might conclude: “We can’t afford this fight.”
There’s no price equal to the loss of a son or husband, but a quarter million bucks to the widow or mother of a slain soldier would be appropriate.
The only way to fund our belligerency with troops drawing equitable pay would be the time-honored “taxing the rich.”
I’m sure they wouldn’t mind. They are, after all, the biggest fans of armed conflict.
Americans have always claimed we wage war to preserve freedom and liberty. Bosh! From the Revolutionary War forward the prize has always been cash or land.
The Civil War made corpses of 600,000 American men. World War II took millions of lives. Most were civilians. Vietnam tallied 60,000 American lives.
The Afghan War has been a cheap fight. After 11 years of combat, U.S. military deaths in the Afghan war have only reached 2,000, a cold reminder of the human cost of an 11-year-old conflict.
The war that opened our hostilities in the Middle East after 9/11 has drawn little public interest at home. Gen. David Petraeus might be the only one remembered in a dozen years.