In George Bush's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi people from years of murder and oppression, the president has left out something he might like to consider.
The point has been made - and not just by his critics - that the president has not sufficiently rallied the public to his cause. President Lyndon Johnson thought he could provide "guns" to win the ill-conceived Vietnam War and "butter" - a sound economy. President Bush has yet to call for sacrifice or any type of investment by the people - other than military forces - for his grand undertaking.
Last December, two Republican senators - Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Conrad Burns of Montana - sponsored legislation to revive war bonds as part of the anti-terrorism effort. The senators call them Patriot Bonds (during World War I they were called Liberty Bonds). By whatever name, their purpose since the Civil War has been to help pay the financial bill that war brings. While the McConnell-Burns legislation does not allow bond purchasers to designate where their money will go (a provision that should be added to keep the money from going to wasteful and unneeded programs), the idea of citizen participation would help build the kind of unity reminiscent of other wars.
Five days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the first posters promoting savings bonds and savings stamps went up. Children pasted the savings stamps in books (they could be purchased for as little as 10 cents), and when there were enough, they traded them for bonds. Some merchants made change with these stamps.
Much of the country pitched in, not only buying stamps and bonds but also saving rubber and other items needed for the war effort. This helped unify the nation and gave all citizens a sense that they were part of the greater effort to topple the German and Japanese dictatorships and promote democracy.
The Congressional Budget Office has projected that just the movement of troops to the Middle East will cost $25 billion. Even if the war is successful and over quickly, with minimal casualties and damage, the final tab will total many times that amount. Patriot Bonds will help reduce the final bill.
There is another way to help defray the cost of this war. It should be U.S. policy to seize the Iraqi oil fields and use this enormous asset to pay for Iraq's liberation and transformation. Some Iraqi-Americans said as much during a pro-American demonstration last weekend in New York City. Framed this way, American forces will not be seen as tools of "big oil" but as agents of freedom. As such, it is right and moral to pay for Iraq's liberation with that nation's chief resource - oil. When that bill is paid, there will be plenty of oil left to rebuild the country, which, again, should be done primarily with Iraq's, not America's, money.
The savings stamps and bonds campaigns during World War II featured posters that depicted Hitler as evil and Japanese leaders in crude stereotypes. A similar but more sophisticated approach could be used with modern stamps and bonds. This campaign might show pictures of oppressed women and children and the crimes that Saddam Hussein has committed against them and his neighbors.
Printed on the stamps and bonds could be: "Are we not our brother's and sister's keeper?" Doesn't the nobility of America demand that we confront evil when possible? Surely to whom much has been given, much shall also be required. Or do we think we can escape eventual confrontation with evil by ignoring it?
McConnell and Burns are right to revive an old idea. Even more than helping to pay for the war and reconstruction of Iraq, this contemporary savings stamps and bonds program will help many of us feel the stake we have in the outcome of this war.
"Buy bonds today!" They're available online at www.savingsbonds.gov.
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