Jess Walter
Jess Walter is the author of six novels, most recently Beautiful Ruins. A former National Book Award finalist and winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award, his short fiction has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, The Best American Short Stories, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his family.

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REASON 65: President Obama ended stop-loss.

Over the summer my wife and I went to the funeral of the twenty-year-old son of a family friend killed in Afghanistan. The service was wrenching. His unit had suffered heavy casualties (including the deaths of his two closest friends) and yet was still deployed near Kandahar when men dressed as Afghan police officers ambushed him and another sentry. The funeral ended with a slide show in which our friend’s son went from toddler to soldier—with not nearly enough pictures in between.

Afterward, another friend said to me, “How is it possible I keep forgetting we’re at war?”

Here’s how:

We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan since late 2001, the longest period of continual combat in American history. But unlike other American wars, the cost of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq has not been shared by most Americans: there was no draft and very little sacrifice required on the home front. In fact, while every other war has—at least—been accompanied by a tax increase to pay for it, these wars have coincided with huge tax cuts, weighted toward the wealthy.

To fight two increasingly unpopular wars with an all-volunteer army, the Department of Defense under George W. Bush began issuing stop-loss orders—involuntary extensions of duty. Thousands of soldiers thought they had completed their two- to five-year missions only to be given another tour of up to 18 months. Often they were thrown back into combat. During the period of stop-loss redeployment, some soldiers committed suicide rather than go back to Afghanistan and Iraq. As John Kerry said in the 2004 presidential campaign, stop-loss was akin to a “backdoor draft.”

In the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama promised to end the Bush-era stop-loss policy if he was elected.

He did just that.

In the branding of our political parties over the last fifty years, Republicans have tried to portray themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility and strong national defense. But, in fact, they have become the party of one issue, tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans have become the party of one man. Grover Norquist.

So every time Mitt Romney cynically offers up those familiar tropes about “cutting the deficit” and “supporting the troops,” every time Fox News fires up the flags and eagles, remember that Republicans are the ones who waged two unfunded wars with inferior equipment and overburdened soldiers. (As Donald Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the army you have.”) Remember that Mitt Romney’s pledge to cut taxes and yet somehow increase military spending is just more of the same, pledging a strong defense without bothering to pay for it. Remember that Republicans are the ones who repeatedly vote against veterans benefits and use them as pawns in budget negotiations.

My friend asked how it was possible to keep forgetting we’re still at war:

By choosing not to care. By claiming you support the military without caring for individual soldiers. By nominating a candidate like Mitt Romney, who failed to even mention Afghanistan during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

There are, of course, countless reasons for Democrats to support Barack Obama. The surprising thing is how many reasons there are for Republicans.

Jess Walter
 Spokane, Washington

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REASON 62:
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REASON 63:
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