NOW with Alex Wagner | May 16, 2012
>> nation's highest military honor to a soldier killed during vietnam. the street nam war. the fechbt serves is an a reminder of the sacrifices of war particularly as 90,000 troops continue to fight in afghanistan. and veterans begin adapting to civilian life back home after more than a decade at war. joining the panel now is david wood , pulitzer prize winning senior military correspondent with the " huffington post " and james wright , author of those who have born the battle" a history of america's wars and those who fought them. thank you so much for joining the panel. james, in the book you write fewer americans than ever before during wartime know someone in the military or in war zones. knowing someone who is there is crisply focuses the mind on the distant conflict. the stats were staggering. in world war ii 12% of the population was in the military. now less than 1% are in the military.
>> that's right. they're not a representative 1%. they will do not represent a cross section of the countries. they come more common little from small towns. they come more from the south and the west than they do from the northeast. they tend not to have a college educations. there is a concern we went to the all volunteer force that many of them would be minorities and poor. that's not been the case. it has not been proportional of minority anderson poor. part of that is just the standards, the expectation of health standards and of having a college education . so i'm sorry, a high school education.
>> but this is something we decided as a nation back in the '70s. we don't want to keep responsibility for going to war. we want somebody else to do that for us. that was the whole idea behind the all volunteer force . we want to hire people to go to war for us so we don't have to. that's what we've done. we've bought ourselves really the best military in the world i think. but it means the rest of us are really disconnected from those who do go.
>> that's exactly it. right now, there's a gulf, we were talking during the break about the fact that celebrities and you make this point in your book, jim, that clark gable , jimmy stewart , glenn miller , joe dimaggio , ted williams , joe louis , these guys all served. the notion that anybody in public life would go to war is am anathema to the country at this point.
>> david, there is not a national focus on veterans, veterans fairs, health. you know, the sacrifices that they have made. do you sense that you know, as the president and the first lady have made more of a push to bring veterans' issues to the forefront that has changed attitudes at all?
>> i don't think it's changed attitudes. americans are very proud of their military. they want to quol them home. they want to honor them. people don't know how. there's such a gulf of experience between veterans who are coming home with three, four, five combat tours and the rest of us who you know, we never go to those places. and we don't share those really searing experiences. i see this in airports all the time. here comes a gi in his combat fatigues and somebody goes up and says, usually an older person and says thank you for your service and welcome home . the guy says thank you very much. there's sort of this awkward pause like nobody know what's to say. i've even had marines say to me don't thank me talking about civilians. you don't know what i do. don't thank me. so there's you know, it's going to be a big job for this country and for us civilians in the next few years to figure out how to welcome these folks home, how to get over that awkward gap and ask them, can i ask you about your experience, how are you?
>> and yeah, acknowledging that they've served, thanking them that they've served. the idea we are a nation at war governor pa at that time kick is not acknowledged in any sort of routine fashion.
>> i think that's right. david, i have to agree with you. we need to do a better job of welcoming our troops home. i have to take issue with something you said earlier. earlier said we have hired others to fight our war. i have seen been on many bases. there are hundreds of thousands of americans who are in uniform because of their patriotism. not because they've been hired. including both of my sons. and we are very proud of them. they're not doing it for a check.
>> no, they're not. interestingly and a big difference from the draft army, these are professionals and they think of themselves as professionals and they're proud of what they do. you know, there was a time a few years ago when people were saying, oh, gosh, war is now three, four years old. the army's going to crack. the marines are going to crack and they didn't. it's because they are professionals, they think of themselves as professionals. they're trained as professionals. they're proud of what they do.
>> i'm not sure that's entirely true. this is the first war where the national guard has been a huge factor. a lot of people who enlist into the guard never viewed themselves as professional soldiers.
>> that's true.
>> i think it's an interesting concept. the guard almost except for the air national guard never went to war in foreign conflicts. the guard's been a backbone of what we've done here. i have an idea how we welcome them home. give them a job. let's make sure that will every person who put his rear end on the line for us has a job.
>> jim in the book you write in terms of the nations sacrificing or the sense of national sacrificing that we should be supporting these folks during a time of war, in a september 1942 fireside chat fdr said battles are not won by soldiers or sailors who think first of their own safety and wars no the won by people concerned primarily with their own comfort, convenience and their own pocketbooks.
>> george washington said during the american revolution that the -- one of the costs of living in a free society is that all of the citizens should be prepared to share their personal treasure and their own persons by serving in war. these are the first wars in american history we've not had a tax to help pay for the war. we've had a tax cut . it's quite remarkable. i wrote to several members of congress a year ago, all of whom i know on a first name basis. they didn't even respond to me. i just think it's most americans would be willing to help to pay for this war as anathema as taxes are today. the kids fighting the war will pick up and pay the debt for the war, the debt that helped to sustain them. we've gone through this before during the korean war , when president truman said we need a is your tax to help pay for the war. same rayburn said let's not have the these kids go home and pay for it. republican leaders such as senator taft and richard nixon said absolutely. if we're going to go to war, we all have to pay for it now. who has ever said ha in the last several years.
>> shared sacrifices.
>> alex, you're absolutely right. you know i'm not a president bush barber. i think he's a terrific guy but he missed an opportunity right after 9/11 when he knew we were going to war, he should have looked in the camera and said mr. and mrs. american, i know i promised you a tax cut . i'm going to ask the congress to repeal it while we're at war. when the war's over, if i'm still here, i hope to implement it again. i don't think one american would have bitched. not one.
>> james wright , thank you for shashing with us. the book is "those who have bourn the battle." you also governor george pataki who has to go. thank you for joining us. a pleasure and honor to have you.