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Jewish World Review April 15, 2002 / 4 Iyar, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

Will there be telethons
for fallen soldiers? | I saw the most unusual thing on the back of a car in a parking lot the other afternoon:

An American flag.

Now . . . "the most unusual thing" is an exaggeration -- there are still flags to be seen on cars these days -- but it is becoming increasingly uncommon. In the days and weeks just after Sept. 11, it seemed at times as if there was a new law in effect ordering Americans to display the flag on their homes and vehicles. But the predictions that this would soon fade away have proved accurate; the flags on the cars are few enough these days that when you see one, it catches your eye.

Six months, in a country with no attention span, is a long time, and Sept. 11 is already being discussed in the context of history, as if the war that has followed is somehow past-tense instead of ongoing. And that in itself raises a question that has been presented to me by more than one person.

It has to do with the soldiers our country has sent across the ocean to fight the war. More specifically, it has to do with the soldiers who won't be coming back -- the soldiers who have died already, and the soldiers who almost certainly will die as the months and years go on.

Those soldiers will leave families behind -- spouses and children who will never see them again.

Those families -- will we be giving them the same kind of charitable help that we gave the families of the people who died in the United States on Sept. 11? Will there be an outpouring of generosity for the families of the soldiers killed overseas?

It's worth thinking about. The contributions for the families of the people killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the site of the downed plane in Pennsylvania came pouring in so fast that it became a complicated task even to count up all the money. Stars of the movies, television and the recording industry held nationally broadcast fundraisers for the families -- the size of the various funds was so overwhelming that the controversy became: How much should each family receive, and how quickly should they receive it?

It was a wonderful gesture on the part of the American people. But now, as the most difficult part of the war begins, what will be done for the families of the soldiers we as

k to die in our name? Some voice will say: The government has benefits programs for the survivors of military men and women who die during war.

That's true -- but it doesn't answer the real question. Which is: If we were willing to so generously help out the families of the victims of Sept. 11 with private donations, will we do it for the soldiers, too?

The answer may be no. And if it is, the least we can do is ask ourselves why.

It is wrong to try to quantify pain -- the widow of an office worker or a stockbroker who died in the World Trade Center feels the same range of anguished emotions as the widow of a Marine private who dies in a foreign land. But a case can be made that -- for all the use of the word "hero" to describe those who died on Sept. 11 -- with the exception of the firefighters, police officers and emergency workers, most of the dead were victims, not heroes. The soldiers who will die because we have asked them to fight our fight, though. . . .

Again -- comparing the pain of the families serves no purpose. What does serve a purpose is to ask ourselves why we were willing to open our wallets to the families of the Sept. 11 victims -- and why we may be reluctant to do that for the families of the soldiers.

Was it just the overriding grief of the moment? Was it something so awful and basic as the fact that on Sept. 11, the dead died on television -- that the world saw them die, as it happened? And that the soldiers will die in places none of us can see?

It's not an easy thing to think about. But if the war lasts as long as our national leaders have been saying it will, there will be many American families suddenly in mourning. When those families -- the families of the soldiers who will die -- ask themselves where our concern for them is, what will the answer be?

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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