I was born shortly after World War II. For most of my life, America has been at war. Korea, Viet Nam, Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are the wars we know about.  Yet, there’s a difference between the wars of my lifetime and the war that my parents participated in and lived through. Their war involved sacrifice – human and financial sacrifices – that were experienced universally. Rationing and buying war bonds were some of the kinds of sacrifice that my parents generation experienced, even if they were not physically on the front lines. My generation’s wars only involved sacrifice for those directly participating. The financial sacrifice is being passed down to the next generation in the form of unfunded war debts. The actual battlefields are thousands of miles away from the homeland, out of sight and out of mind to all except those who have families at the front. The thirty-something generation has never seen the cost or impact of conflict.

As I write this, I’m in a country where that generation has seen the direct impact of conflict – bombs in their back yard and thousands of refugees flocking to the cities. Croatia was a socialist republic – part of Yugoslavia – and experienced the ravages of war in the early 1990s. Before that, they were invaded and occupied by just about any group that has a chapter in a world history text, from the Ottomans to the Nazis. Today, Croatia is a young democracy with the pluses and minuses that accompany the onset of free enterprise. They have a thriving tourist business, burgeoning construction, traffic jams, and corrupt politicians. Kind of like New Jersey. While I’m here on vacation, enjoying the culture of the capital Zagreb and the amazing resorts on the Dalmatian coasts, I have also talked to native Croats – both within the tourism sphere as well as ordinary citizens.

I’ve seen areas of the country where there are no inhabited buildings more than 20 years old. The older buildings were either destroyed during the war or left uninhabitable. I was told that in some areas of the country, seven percent of the land is littered with unexploded mines.

The nation is undergoing a transition – from a socialist mindset to the regulated marketplace that will be required for them to join the European Union next year. In an area that has been ravaged by wars and invaders for centuries, Croatia is at peace – for now. The people here know first-hand what war can do to a country and her people, and I hope their path to peace and prosperity is traversed easily.

It’s interesting that during the time that Croatia is rebuilding its infrastructure, it is not forgetting its people. Health care is universal and mostly paid for by the state. While I was here, I had to have a routine blood test. In the US, my insurance company is billed $136 for the test. Here, it cost the equivalent of $14. Compare this to the governor of New Jersey who is cutting off Medicaid for families earning $7,000 per year. And speaking of New Jersey, unlike in the Garden State where tax money is used to rehabilitate private beaches, here in Croatia, all beaches are open to the public.

The economic problems that we face in America are not due to Social Security or Medicare. Those programs actually help people and put dollars back into the economic stream. The problem today is the multiple trillions of dollars we spend on wars. Unlike the threat from Hitler and Tojo, our wars are wars of choice – ones that our Presidents commit to with only cursory oversight from Congress, and ones that explode the national debt. Our obsession with war and guns can only lead to the conclusion that we are a belligerent people, and if America is to survive we need a change in mindset. Croatia’s peace may be solid or it may be fragile. Only time will tell. America’s wars are invisible and endemic. If we don’t fix both of those problems, the battle over Social Security will be tragically irrelevant.

Comments (4)

  1. ken bank

    I’m assuming both of us agree the current wars are unjustified, immoral, and counterproductive both economically and politically, as well as “wars of choice”.  That being the case, I believe politicians and their supporters and enablers should be held accountable, even under international law, for their actions.

    But if these are “wars of choice” shouldn’t there be some accountability for those that “choose” to fight these wars?  We don’t have a draft, unlike Vietnam where most soldiers faced a choice of going to fight or going to jail.  I know I’m supposed to “thank” soldiers for their service, but how do I thank someone for volunteering to serve in a war I know is unjust and immoral?

    I’ll never forget a chilling incident some years ago when I was in a high school sitting with several older students and a teacher.  We were watching TV and they were doing a report on Iraq.  One of the seniors, who seemed like a tempermental individual, jumped up excitedly and said he couldn’t wait to finish high school, enlist in the Marines, and go to Iraq to “kick ass”!  The teacher, who seemed like a Vietnam veteran, turned to him and said he should be careful what he wished for.  It’s frightening to think that this kid is not likely the only one serving in the military today with that kind of belligerant mentality.  Shouldn’t he be accountable as well for “choosing” to “kick ass”, rather than find some more productive endeavor when he finished high school?  

    Let’s not assume that most kids who join are poor minorities who can’t get jobs or training and have no choice to do something else.  In fact, I strongly suspect the percentage of minorities, especially African-Americans, in the lower ranks of the military today is alot lower than Vietnam.  It seems the overwhelming majority of soldiers serving are middle-class white kids, so poverty and racism are not a factor.

    I think prestige and ego are bigger factors in motivating recruits than economic necessity.  The belief that wearing a uniform automatically confers “hero” status attracts more people to serve than anything else.  We as a society encourage that mentality, especially after 9/11 even though there is no evidence that other than Bin-Laden and his followers, any of the people targeted by these wars have anything to do with plotting to attack American civilians.

    I confess I’m not a flag-waver, I wasn’t brought up to be, and I admit I’ve never “thanked” a soldier for “choosing” to serve in a “war of choice”.  They made their “choice” and will have to live with the consequences, whatever they may be.  


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