Two Americas

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(HOST) The idea of “Two Americas” usually refers to an economic division, but recently commentator Bill Seamans has been contemplating a very different meaning.

(SEAMANS) During the campaign, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards charged that we were living in two Americas, divided between the haves and the have-nots. During this Christmas season I had a very uncomfortable feeling that yes, indeed, we are living in two countries. In one of them we are living life to its fullest, except for those nagging gasoline prices and the security delays at the airport.

The second country we are living in is peopled by the growing number of relatives of our service persons killed or maimed in Iraq. We cannot imagine the pain in their households – especially during this past week. On Christmas Day, 13 more names were added to the New York Times daily casualty list. We dread to think of how many more will fall.

The terrible toll has been overwhelmed by the annual hyped-up shopping hysteria. Buy, buy, buy those gifts received by so many who, this week, are in the line at the returns counter. It’s said that the wise men brought only three gifts for the Christ child – something that has been forgotten in a commercial world where merry means more.

Whether this Christmas was successful depends on how many pieces of silver were left at the checkout counters. The numbers added up by the post-Christmas shopping analysts are getting more media attention than our casualty numbers in Iraq.

When I heard Gen. Barry McCaffrey say on Meet the Press, “We need to put the country at war – not just the armed forces,” I realized that my discomfort is caused by a feeling of guilt as I watch one part of America living it up as if nothing has happened, while we send another part to die in a war that President Bush is finding more and more difficult to explain. I ask whether the continuous flow from the White House of politically marinated optimism about Iraq has built up a tolerance among the people for the growing list of dead and wounded.

As we try to empathize with the burden imposed on the families of our service persons we ask, as Gen. McCaffrey suggested, what are the rest of us really giving up to support the war? The reality is the sacrifice of American lives for a debatable purpose. Denial is the tinseled atmosphere of joy this past week. Was all the Christmas cheer really hiding a national sense of guilt that we find difficult to admit?

We recall how a youthful war protester named John Kerry testified before Congress: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

I suggest that we could now substitute “Iraq” for “Vietnam”!

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for A-B-C News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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