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  • Chao Soi Cheong / Associated Press file, 2001

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Matey has a wall of photos in his Sacramento office to honor members of the California National Guard's 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment, who were killed in Iraq.

  • Doug Kanter / AFP file, 2001

Editorial: Inequitable sacrifices are a somber legacy of 9/11

Published: Sunday, Sep. 11, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1E
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 11, 2011 - 10:52 am

What kinds of sacrifices have you made in the 10 years since 9/11? To comment on the editorial, please use our comments section at the end of the story or go our facebook page at

The 10th anniversary today of Sept. 11 is a day when we honor those who died in the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. As is to be expected, the milestone is also eliciting lots of commentary about how we've all been transformed, how our lives have changed dramatically, how we've all sacrificed.

Let's be honest: For most of us, that's simply not true.

Relatively few Americans have risked life and limb in the war on terror; nearly 4,500 in Iraq and more than 1,750 in Afghanistan have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Most of us have been asked to do precious little since 9/11.

We haven't had to take up arms. Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military, so many of us don't even personally know anyone who has fought.

We haven't had to pay a tax to fund the wars. Instead, we have put on credit at least $1.3 trillion and counting, adding to the national debt that will saddle coming generations.

We haven't become more united behind a common purpose. If anything, in recent years political divisions have deepened in our country.

From President George W. Bush on, our leaders have told us that the terrorists would win if we changed how we live.

So, for the most part, we haven't.

If there were another 9/11-scale attack, the impact on all of us could be monumental. So far, however, the burden of the war has not been shared.

A few lonely voices in Washington have called for compulsory national service – either in the military or in the community. But those proposals have gone nowhere.

Not many have dared to speak the truth. So when they do, it grabs attention.

On Veterans Day last November, Marine Lt. General John F. Kelly gave an impassioned, at times angry speech about the burden on the military since 9/11 – and its growing isolation from the rest of society.

"It is a fact that our country today is in a life-and-death struggle against an evil enemy, but America as a whole is certainly not at war – not as a country, not as a people," he declared. "Today, only a tiny fraction … shoulder the burden of fear and sacrifice, and they shoulder it for the rest of us."

"Their sons and daughters who serve are men and women of character who continue to believe in this country enough to put life and limb on the line without qualification and without thought of personal gain, and they serve so that the sons and daughters of the other 99 percent don't have to," he said in the speech that went viral across military and veteran websites.

Though he didn't mention it, he knew of war's high price only too well. Four days earlier, his son had stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan, making Kelly then the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It is through the countless sacrifices of brave men and women in the military and intelligence services that al-Qaida has been crippled as a global terror network, many of its top leaders either dead or captured.

Yet, except for the occasional high-profile incident like the SEAL helicopter shoot-down in Afghanistan in August, or the death of a local soldier, how many of us even think about our service members in remote outposts in Iraq or Afghanistan?

This war stands in stark contrast to others in our recent history, when those who didn't fight were still very much part of the mobilization.

During World War II, many worked in factories making tanks and planes. Everyone pitched in by buying war bonds and planting Victory Gardens.

There was food and gas rationing on the home front. The first broad expansion of income taxes helped pay for the war.

While the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War were less popular at home, the military draft continued, and so did war taxes.

With today's all-volunteer military, you have to make a conscious choice to put yourself in harm's way. Many enlisted right after 9/11.

To keep the ranks filled in our decade at war, active duty soldiers and those in the Guard and Reserves have been sent overseas repeatedly, often with only short respites at home. Too many businesses and families have gone to ruin during those absences.

Since 9/11, more than 35,000 California National Guard members have been mobilized, more than 15,000 of them to combat zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. Twenty-seven didn't make it home alive.

One of them was Sgt. Arnold Duplantier II of Sacramento, who was 26 when a sniper shot him in June 2005.

Robert Matey was there, helping get his fellow sergeant to a hospital. They were both in Auburn-based Company C of the 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment. That battalion suffered the most casualties of any California Guard unit – more than 100 killed or injured in combat during its year in Baghdad.

Matey, 44, of Roseville is now the senior enlisted soldier in the 184th. He still believes in the mission – and says he has no problem with soldiers shouldering most of the burden.

"My own personal view is we have a volunteer military for a reason," he says. "We volunteered so those back home don't have to sacrifice."

While the burdens of war have not been shared equally, there is one we all share – a loss of civil liberties and privacy in the name of homeland security.

It's most obvious when we go through airport security. What is less noticeable but more pervasive is the vast expansion of domestic surveillance under the Patriot Act. People's phone calls and emails can be much more frequently monitored, sometimes without having to obtain a court warrant first. The FBI has issued tens of thousands of "national security letters" to demand individual financial, Internet and other records.

Much intelligence gathering remains classified, so we don't really know the extent of intrusions.

Right after 9/11, it was inevitable that the national security apparatus would be given emergency powers to fight a new kind of enemy. A decade later, we should be asking how many are still necessary.

It's shocking, actually, the erosion of civil liberties we've been willing to accept. And while we no longer torture suspected terrorists in secret prisons, there's scant public outcry these days that the U.S. government, in our name, continues to hold people indefinitely without charges, much less trials.

Because the war on terror has no definite end, it is not too far-fetched to share the concern of civil libertarians that a permanent national security state is being established.

Even in this area, however, the impact has been far more on some than others.

In an extensive survey released in August, more than half of Muslim Americans said they believe they are being singled out by anti-terrorism policies. Advocates say that discrimination, hostility and violence against Muslims leveled off in the years after 9/11, but have risen again since the election of President Barack Obama. As the tone of politics, particularly on the right, has become angrier, conspiracy-spinning and fear-mongering has also increased – like bills in more than 20 states against the nonexistent threat of Shariah law.

Actual cases of homegrown extremism in the Muslim community are rare – and have sometimes been fomented by overzealous law enforcement. Informants and infiltrators have incited illegal acts, and there have been dubious prosecutions. Close to home, an extensive FBI undercover operation targeted Lodi's 3,000-member Pakistani Muslim community. It resulted in two convictions and the deportation of two imams, but at the cost of deep distrust that has taken years to repair.

Could you really blame Muslim Americans if they were disillusioned, even angry? Most are not.

The vast, vast majority reject extremism and jihad; it has often been Muslims who tipped off authorities about potentially dangerous radicals in their midst. Recent polls found that the vast majority are very optimistic about their lives and believe in America.

A decade after 9/11, all of us must work to more equitably share the burdens and costs that sprang from that horrific attack.

With al-Qaida hobbled and on the run, it is more difficult to argue that the United States must continue to keep tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan. The money would be better spent ensuring that veterans and their families get the health care and job training they need after their service.

Here at home, we must stand up for America's founding ideals and core values. We must call out the bigots who would treat Muslim Americans – or any ethnic group – differently from everyone else.

We must demand to know exactly how our freedoms are being compromised – and insist that our elected representatives end practices that are unnecessary and abusive.

As taxpayers, we must be willing to pay our share so the debt of the wars does not burden future generations or the economy.

More than anything, we should look inward and consider whether our individual lives were changed by 9/11. Consider how you can give back to your country and your community.

Try to remember that unifying spirit that rose from the ashes of 9/11, only to fade far too quickly.

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