As I write this, stories about Major Malik Nadal Hasan’s rampage at Fort Hood have begun to vanish from the front pages of newspapers and the TV news, displaced by health care, the holidays, and Tiger Woods. It has not even been a month, but already the worst mass shooting at an Army base in U.S. history is old news. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. Civilians in America have been all too willing to let the wars in those two countries be something that happens to other people. Until tragedy strikes, most people avoid news about the military altogether, while a small number of Americans continue to put their lives on the line in desolate foreign lands for reasons that seem to have lost their meaning several years ago.
We still sing “God Bless America” at public events, but supporting the troops is mostly lip service. We learned from Vietnam to hate the war, not the warrior, but we have not learned any better than the Vietnam generation how to assimilate the returning troops into our midst. And though the casualties are far fewer than in Vietnam, the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has inflicted many soldiers with injuries that are not as obvious as, say, a missing limb. Multiple deployments have become a huge factor in the rise in the number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Another factor is that the wars in the Middle East have no front lines: The enemy can be anywhere. The impact of improvised explosive devices— IEDs—can cause traumatic brain injuries that might not show up for years. Meanwhile, technology has made it easier to stay in touch, which means that a soldier can be stressed out in real time by a spouse’s inability to pay the bills or a child’s failing grades, all while he’s trying to remain vigilant at a market outside Baghdad or Kabul. Is it any wonder that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown an incredible spike in