Last January, I posted comments on these pages, noting that our two last major conflicts, promoted and encouraged by presidents of different parties, Johnson in Vietnam and Bush in Iraq, ended, or will end, poorly. The reason for these results is the belief that a war may be prosecuted by only a small fraction of the population and that, for the rest of us, life goes on unabated. I contrasted those conflicts with that of World War II, where the president spoke honestly and candidly about the role of every citizen in supporting the war effort and the sacrifices that had to be made and, in fact, were made.
In January, 2009, a new president will be sworn in. Whether that man or woman is Democrat or Republican, I would like to propose an Inauguration Address, one that must be made – but likely will not. It will call for candor by the next president, an honest appraisal of where we are in the fight against terrorism and will address internal needs within our own country. And, yes, it will not be inexpensive nor will it present a dishonest empty scenario for the future.
This is my suggestion:
“My fellow Americans:
“I come before you this afternoon to speak with candor and honesty about issues and problems that face this country and each and every one of its citizens. For too long, my predecessors, of both political parties, and liberal or conservative, have failed you by keeping unpleasant realities hidden for political gain. It was felt, again by each and every president over the past fifty years that the American people would reject any administration that did not display unbridled optimism, or assert that, if the aims and values we hold so dear, a price must be paid, by us all.
“The time has come to face that reality confident that the people will respond to the need to pay the price for Freedom.
“Let us first address our conflicts around the world. We have been attacked by al Qaeda, as we were in 1941. As President Roosevelt referred to December 7 in that year as a ‘day that will live in infamy’, so September 11, 2001, has become a symbol of the threats to our civilization. Following that attack, we became embroiled in conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East; we have sensitive relations and in some cases armed conflict, with Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We are, in many cases isolated from nations with who we share a love of Freedom.
“I will not use this platform to criticize the actions of former administrations in engaging and managing the conflicts overseas. Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Bush, father and son, and Clinton were and are honorable and decent men, acting in what each thought best for the nation.
“I believe they were wrong.
“Let us examine the war in Iraq. The origins and conduct of that war are not the issue at this time. The real problem and the reason why the American people have acquiesced in the prosecution of the war is that, for the most part, Americans have been sheltered from reality. Politicians of both parties have been willing to engage in wars because, for the most part, their children were not going into battle. Wars are now actually fought by a very small proportion of our citizens; serious conflicts must have universal support and obligation.
“As of this year, there are 91 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 40; our uniformed armed forces are 1.4 million in number, or about 1.54% of the available pool of potential combatants. This disparity has several consequences.
“First, the size of our military is far too small to meet its obligations throughout the world. Our senior military officers have warned us for years that the number of troops in too small. Why has no one listened and taken action? To dramatically increase the size of our armed forces would cost money and, likely, create a need for higher taxes. Also, so long as the military force is comprised of a tiny portion of the population, those without family or political influence, there was no challenge to whatever administration was in power.
“Second, the longer an individual soldier remains in combat, the greater the stress, the higher the psychological toll. The Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team found in its survey of stress and its effects, the greater the stress, the higher the psychological toll. The Army is unable to meet its own goal of having a six month deployment followed by 18 to 36 months at home.
“At home, we have equally severe pressures that have been minimized by past administrations. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding and tornadoes all require massive Federal and State assistance. The usual ability for the Governors of the several states, to utilize their National Guards has been thwarted or hampered by the Federal incorporation of the National Guard into the armed forces and deployed all over the globe.
“We have ignored serious inadequacies in the upkeep, repair and replacement of our infrastructure. We have had bridges collapse and surveys indicate that a substantial number of bridges, tunnels, elevated highways are in dire need for replacement.
“It is one thing to catalogue our problems; it is quite another to say what must be done, even if the solutions are unpopular. I have sufficient faith in the ability of the American people to recognize the burdens that must be undertaken.
“First, I propose that every man and woman, following graduation from secondary school, enter a program of Universal Service to the nation. A portion of men and women physically able would serve a period of two years in the military service of the United States. Another portion would be assigned to the National Guards in the various states, both as a reserve armed force and as a resource for disaster relief assignments as directed by the Governor of their state. There will be those who will have honest and heartfelt conscientious objections to entering the armed forces; those persons will be required to perform non-combatant duties. Finally, out of this pool will come workers and supervisory staff to work on the repair and replacement of out crumbling infrastructure. During the Great Depression, workers built bridges, buildings and other lasting monuments to what can be done with effort and resolve.
“Second, we have face up to our fiscal obligations. All of these matters will take money and the bills must be paid. We have ignored reality for far too long and this must not continue. We have played fiscal games. The Federal government has often cut taxes by shifting the burdens of government to the states, without funding. The result has been to increase state tax burdens on our citizens. An honest appraisal of what should be a national obligation and what should be local must be undertaken.
“Finally, I call upon all office holders, members of the Congress, incumbents of state positions to be honest with the American people and allow their strengths and determination shine through.”
This address should be made by whoever is the new president. Conservatives urge strength and a willingness to do whatever it takes to promote freedom; Liberals urge that our country has urgent social and other needs. Let’s see if either will put their money where their respective mouths lie.