Washington, D.C. -- As Americans celebrate our 227th Independence Day, we do so with more than 150,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines in Iraq, over 10,000 in Afghanistan, 6,000 in the Balkans, tens of thousands at sea around the world in warships and several thousand more now poised for deployment to Liberia. For all of them, any fireworks they observe on the Fourth of July are more likely to be deadly than celebratory. And, if we are to believe the polls, while they stand in harm's way around the globe, an increasing number of Americans here at home are becoming war weary.
This past week, both Fox News and the Gallup organization sampled American public opinion regarding the ongoing military action in Iraq. Both polls show that since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq to have ended, there has been a precipitous drop in public approval for staying the course. Dr. Frank Newport, the Gallup organization's editor in chief, told my radio audience that the 56 percent of Americans who now say they support military action in Iraq is down from a high of 76 percent in April -- a 20-point drop in exactly two months. When I asked him "Why?" he responded that, "the fact that we continue to take casualties and the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction are the primary reasons" Americans have changed their minds.
We have taken casualties. As of this writing, 26 Americans have been killed by enemy action in Iraq since May 1. And no stores of nerve agents, bio-toxins or nuclear weapons have yet been found in Saddam's treasure trove of armaments. Throw in the fact that we have yet to find either Saddam or Osama. Does this explain such a drastic softening of resolve in a nation that less than 22 months ago suffered 2,790 killed at the hands of Islamic terrorists?
Or is something else happening here? Has the mind-numbing, hyperbolic blather of Senator Robert Byrd finally taken effect? Have we succumbed to the globalist-pacifist rant from John Kerry and Howard Dean as they chase each other to the left in their quest for a presidential nomination? Or are we simply paying too much attention to the quagmire commentaries of the negative nannies in the Democrat party?
On July 2, when asked to comment on the killing of a Marine in Iraq, President Bush replied, "there are some who feel that the conditions are such that they can attack us there ... Bring 'em on! ... Our forces are ready." This prompted New Jersey Democrat Senator Frank Lautenberg to jump for the nearest microphone and proclaim that he was shaking his head "in disbelief." He then sputtered that when he was in World War II he had "never heard any military commander -- let alone the commander in chief -- invite enemies to attack U.S. troops." Mr. Lautenberg must think that at Bastogne, General Anthony McAuliffe was asking the Germans for hors d'oeuvres when he replied to their surrender demand with, "Nuts."
After hearing Senator Lautenberg and the explanations of the pollsters, I decided to conduct my own informal, admittedly unscientific sampling of American public opinion to see how deeply this sense of national dyspepsia was being felt. I called a military recruiter.
"The polls say Americans are growing disheartened," I told him. "Are you seeing any drop off in volunteers?" "Not here. We have all the high-school graduates we need for the next two months," he replied, knowing that he is one of those responsible for enlisting 185,000 new recruits this year.
The conversation reminded me of one I had on-air with a young lance corporal just east of Baghdad in early April. The New York Times had reported that morning that the Marines had outrun their supply lines and were out of food, water, fuel and ammo. I stood next to the youthful Leatherneck, told him about the story, stuck the microphone in his face and asked, "Are you hungry?"
"Are you short on ammo?"
"Well, what do you need?" I pressed.
"Just send more enemy, sir."
Bravado? Sure. But it's real -- right from the lips of one of those who stand in harm's way defending us -- and offering the hope of freedom to others.
It was that same kind of audacity that inspired 56 patriots to gather in a hot hall in Philadelphia that July of 1776 and stick it in King George's eye. They knew it was going to be a rough go -- but they didn't shirk and whine. They signed on to the notion that we are endowed by our Creator "with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." As we celebrate that event this year we might do well to remember that enjoying "the blessings of Liberty" sometimes requires us to cinch up our belts, suck it up and get on with the business of protecting ourselves.