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Rob Douglas: The decline of patriotism

— If you're looking for a flag-waving commentary about the U.S. Armed Forces as we honor our war dead this Memorial Day in the Yampa Valley, turn the page; you've come to the wrong column. Not because the men and women who stepped forward and paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country don't deserve to be honored — of course they do. But because so few of us are willing to make any sacrifice for America's global war on terror as it expands into its second decade, it's time we confront the ugly truth of America's growing indifference to endless warfare.

It is time to admit that most Americans aren't sacrificing one iota — physically, emotionally or financially — for the multitude of U.S. military operations around the world.

It is time to challenge the decline of American patriotism.

It is time to institute mandatory military service.

Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in our military. That is the lowest percentage since before World War II. With each succeeding generation, a smaller number of Americans know anyone who has served in uniform. Many Americans give no thought to our nation's ongoing military adventurism.

Since last Memorial Day — if it even happened then — when was the last time you were at a get-together with family and friends where anyone raised the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan for serious discussion?

Did you notice the flags at half-staff Thursday? If you noticed, did it cross your mind that the flags were lowered to honor a Colorado soldier? Do you know the name of the Fort Carson first lieutenant who was killed in Afghanistan on May 11? Do you know 1st Lt. Alejo Rene Thompson is survived by a 12-year-old son who never will toss a ball again with his Dad, a 5-year-old daughter who never will walk down the aisle on the arm of her Papa and a wife who never will fall asleep in her husband's arms again?

Do you know that Thompson is the third soldier from the 4th Brigade Combat Team to be killed in Afghanistan since the team deployed less than three months ago?

I didn't know, either.

To reinvigorate the patriotism of America and thereby get us all focused on the life-and-death consequences perversely coupled with the political gamesmanship behind our never-ending wars, it is long past time that we institute mandatory military service.

I never wore the uniform of my country. Throughout the years, I've excused myself because I missed the Vietnam draft by three years. And, as the descendent of a grandfather and father who saw combat in World Wars I and II, respectively, I look back and feel confident that I would have answered the call to serve had the war and draft not ended before my 18th birthday.

Still, even though the draft and war ended, I could have volunteered to serve in uniform. I did not. It is one of the deepest regrets of my life.

I regret it more with each passing day as our military casualties mount, slowly but steadily, because our elected representatives in Washington too often use the men and women in our military as expendable pawns in political maneuvers camouflaged as national security.

Do you believe President Barack Obama's military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan has been based on protecting the national security of the U.S. or protecting his own political skin? If you answered national security, you're either a naïf or blinded by partisanship. Obama is not the first president to issue military orders for political advantage, and he won't be the last — unless more Americans have a direct stake in the wars we conduct.

How can we increase the odds that warfare conducted under the American flag is warfare of necessity and not political opportunism? Give every American a life-or-death stake by way of a two-year military service requirement.

Our military leaders will correctly argue that our all-volunteer forces are the most effective fighting force in our nation's history. But that ignores the growing disconnect between those fighting our wars and the civilian population that has little understanding of what war entails. That disconnect allows the permanent political class in Washington to entangle our nation in misguided and unconstitutional wars.

Therefore, every American must have skin — real flesh and blood — at risk.

After all, our nation's history is replete with examples of how focused the collective conscience of America becomes when the majority of her children are at risk. That renewed focus will result in real patriotism that manifests itself by ensuring that the wars we fight are just and truly for our nation's security.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C., private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.