Do you remember the images from the end of World War II? The enormous crowds in New York City’s Times Square. Sailors and random women kissing. Everyone jubilant because the War was finally over.
Do you remember the end of the war in Iraq? Probably not. On December 8, 2011 the last US soldiers left Iraq. The then Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, declared in Baghdad that the freedom of Iraq was well worth the lives of many American and Iraqi soldiers as if an American bureaucrat were God himself able to weigh the worth of human lives. But today that freedom is once again in acute peril.
More importantly, for America at large, the end of the war in Iraq passed without notice. When World War II ended, America celebrated because that war was waged by everyone. The war in Iraq, on the contrary, was a private experience for, on the one hand, powerful politicians, like VP Cheney and Secretary of Defense Ashcroft and, on the other, the soldiers and their families. For the rest of America the war in Iraq was clearly secondary to much else that happened.
(There is no reason to think that the war in Afghanistan and its end later this year will be any different.)
The Pledge Of Allegiance speaks of our country as "one nation indivisible" but that has stopped being true a long time ago. Yes, brief blossomings of national unity occur such as after 9/11 but they don't last. Soon everybody crawls back into their partisan and narcissistic corners unconcerned about what happens to everyone else.
There is a widespread belief that the war in Iraq has been fought by the poor of this country. African Americans and young men and women from rural areas are overrepresented among enlistees after 9/11 . (The Heritage Foundation has waged a spirited war against this widely held opinion.) Regardless of who is right in this controversy, no doubt exists that the Iraq war was very much the concern of a very small percentage of the American citizenry. For the rest of us it mattered only in its early years. But as the war dragged on, most Americans lost interest.
A nation united has common goals. It's citizens participate in common efforts. Everyone is animated to participate in projects considered supportive of the common good. Wars are one of those shared projects. They are entered in with widespread popular support. They are conducted by everyone, each doing their job to contribute to what they chose to undertake. Behind these common projects stands a nation united in support of striving for common goals.
Where a nation works in unison, democracy is strong. It does not just consist of occasional balloting but is renewed every day as each citizen makes their contribution to the common undertaking.
But for us there are no more common projects. Democracy has degenerated into partisan bickering for individual advantage.
When the end of a war slips by without much public notice, we see only too clearly the decay of the nation.