I had to pull over the first time Lee Brice’s song “I Drive Your Truck” played on my car radio. The lyrics tell the story of one brother grieving for another; the survivor feels closest to his dead sibling when he drives his truck. “Dog tags hangin’ from the rearview,” “Go Army shirt folded in the back”—you get the message loud and clear, but it’s neither maudlin nor political. Instead, for close to four minutes, the 6,713 U.S. soldiers who’ve died in Iraq and Afghanistan are more than numbers.
As Brice’s song ended and I pulled back into traffic, I thought about Rachel Maddow’s recent book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. Like Brice’s song, Maddow’s book is not political; she makes the case that both Democrats and Republicans are guilty, in equal measure, of making it too easy for us to go to war. She points out that the founders of our nation believed that “we should structure ourselves as a country in a way that deliberately raised the price of admission to any war.” And yet for the last twelve years the majority of us have paid no price at all.
As Maddow writes, “Civilian life has rolled on virtually uninterrupted. If you’re not in a military family, you’ve barely even felt it. The country has perfected the art of frictionless war. America’s wars thrum away like Muzak in the background here in the United States, kind of annoying when you tune in, but easy enough to tune out.”
During the Vietnam War, images of body bags appeared on the news every night. Now our fallen soldiers are all but invisible, despite the fact that we’ve been at war in Afghanistan for twelve years and in Iraq for ten. It’s easy to blame our politicians or the news that’s now more aptly called infotainment, but we’re all guilty. “Support Our Troops” is a great slogan and this time around, thankfully, our soldiers aren’t being blamed for wars they didn’t start. But waging war should be painful for every one of us, not just those who are called to serve. Because unless every citizen feels the pain, it’s just too damn easy to keep sending troops to far-off places to die.
My novel, Yard Sale, is available on Amazon. A mystery set at the South Pole is currently in progress.