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When Will Young Americans Get Angry About the War?

Peter W. Fulham

I watched the hearings of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the small TV in my dorm common room. My classmates, always courteous, kept asking me to change the channel. When SportsCenter and congressional testimony on Iraq go head-to-head these days, it's no contest. The war, it seems, is getting stale.

Young people are tired of hearing about Iraq, and they gave up getting angry about its steep death toll and mounting costs a long time ago. There is indeed an unsettling absence of anger here in Middletown, Del., at least within the hallways of St. Andrew's, the small boarding school I attend. Instead of fretting about the war, upperclassmen worry about this year's record-low acceptance rates at Harvard and whether we'll get custom T-shirts for the junior prom.

Sad as all this is, it's tough to blame anybody my age for this indifference. Why should we worry when we have no personal stake in the conflict?

I can't help but imagine that the tone in high school was different in 1970, as the Vietnam War raged and 18-year-olds were sent into its deadly grinder. There must have been anger and no small amount of fear. The idea of a draft is almost laughable today. So we don't worry. We live our lives.

With a few notable exceptions, the public has shown a remarkable placidity about the war in Iraq, an indifference that must be attributable in part to the absence of a draft. Students, the usual anti-war activists, have been largely silent. We don't support the conflict, as polls show. Even so, we have done little to make our government uncomfortable, little to demonstrate our disapproval. Perhaps, as a nation, we have outgrown the antics of the Vietnam anti-war movement.

I hope not, because audacious wars call for audacious measures.

Tame protests

The last major anti-war demonstration, more than a year ago in Washington, was remarkably tame. There were the obligatory celebrity appearances -- Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon -- but nothing occurred that might make President Bush toss in his sleep, nothing like during the darkest days of the Vietnam War, when students poured into the streets across the country demanding, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"

American students have an obligation to be outraged about the war in Iraq -- not just disapproving of it. We need to make this administration and the remaining pro-war lawmakers start to worry.

Young people need to get involved -- and soon. We must organize protests. We must write letters to the editor. Most important, we must vote for a president who will acknowledge and act upon our anti-war sentiment. We have wavered too long on the fringe of electoral irrelevance, and 2008 is the year to fix this problem.

The grim benchmark of 4,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq came and went here without notable consternation. I asked another student recently whether he had heard about the new death toll. His reply: "Has it really been that many?"

'War in abstractions'

I have begun to understand that we deal with this war in abstractions. We see Iraq as a distant problem, and it's difficult to summon outrage because we have not been asked to sacrifice anything. Is it possible to summon deep-rooted anger for a war for which we were never asked to sacrifice anything? I continue to hope that it is.

It occurred to me last month, on my 18th birthday, that the soldiers dying in Iraq are my age. They are college-aged, anxiety-filled kids. Kids -- members of my generation -- are dying in Iraq.

Kurt Vonnegut was right, I finally realize. War is a children's crusade.

Peter W. Fulham is a junior at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Del.

© Copyright 2008 USA TODAY

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