What have we learned after six years? That we went to war against a country that did not threaten the United States, a country that had never attacked the United States, and because of weapons that this country did not have, weapons that did not exist.
Let's hope we may finally learn how right Army Col. Steve Siegfried was when he told military journalist George Wilson why the United States must - in a time of war - have a military draft of civilians: "Armies don't fight wars. Countries fight wars. I hope to hell we learned that in Vietnam (we didn't, tragically). ... A country fights a war. If it doesn't, then we shouldn't send an army."
We obviously have not learned that fundamental truth yet. Totally violating the historically honored American value that an American war demands equality of sacrifice, this nation - without debate or noisy dissent - continues the longest war in American history waged without a draft and with tax cuts.
True, our re-elected president has asked us to pay no price, to bear no burden. In fact, Jim Lehrer of PBS's "NewsHour" asked Bush last year: "Why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point."
The president's answer: "Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of the war." OK, admittedly it's no threat to Churchill's "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears."
But it is too easy simply to place all blame for the tragedy that is the U.S. war against Iraq on the Bush administration and their war supporters, both Democrats and Republicans, in the Congress. We, especially those of us who have opposed this war, have been too quiet, too docile, too ready to find comfort in our own presumed moral righteousness.
What lack of patriotism and decency permits us not to tax ourselves to pay for the war and instead to hypocritically shift all the burden for eventually paying the trillions it will inevitably cost onto our children and our grandchildren?
Where are the marches, the demonstrations, the protests? Does anyone doubt that if the nation today had a military draft - without student deferments - summoning to service the sons of senators, CEOs and talk-show "patriots," that the country's campuses, as well as its elites, would be on fire against the war?
I hope we have learned to heed the wisdom of U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who carries the scars of battle from his combat experience as a Marine platoon leader and company commander in Vietnam, where he earned the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. Condemning the disengaged jargon of Washington policy-makers that reduces flesh and bone to abstractions, Webb was emphatic: "You don't send 'force,' you send young people who have dreams, who want a future."
Some six months before George W. Bush would order U.S. troops into combat, warrior-scholar Jim Webb wrote presciently: "Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. ... In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets."
I hope we have painfully learned to choose combat boots over cowboy boots.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.