Each of us interfaces with major news events in our own way. We take reported facts and run them through the personal opinions and filters that we use to shape our view of the world.
So when Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire and gunned down dozens of his fellow servicemen at Fort Hood, it was predictable that some would conclude that you just can't trust Muslims while others saw it as yet another sign of the ancillary tragedies of war. Some came away concerned that there would be an outsized backlash against Arab and Islamic Americans while others called for just that. Was Hasan a lone wolf acting on his own or part of an international terrorist plot? Inquiring minds want to know.
We claim to demand answers to these questions but, in truth, we don't care so much. The questions are rhetorical. Politicians and ideologues take snippets of information and use them to support conclusions and positions reached long before anyone heard of Major Hasan.
That's because at no time in U.S. history have so few of us had any personal or finacial skin in the game of defending our country. Most of the victims at Fort Hood, like most casualties of our current disastrous wars, were from small rural towns that most of us don't even know exist. Only 2 of the 13 who were killed hailed from metropolitan areas.
The rest were from West Jordan UT, Bolinbrook IL, Mountain City TN, Havre de Grace, MD, Kiel WI, Woodbridge VA, Willistron ND, Plymouth IN, Racine WI, Tillman OK, and Cameron TX.
The vast majority of Americans live in cities with populations of more than 100,000 but 85 percent of those killed at Fort Hood and most American victims of the war did not. I've been checking the hometowns of our war victims for years and they are always disproportionately rural. Try it yourself. You'll be shocked.
The sad truth is that we have outsourced virtually every aspect of our military effort to paid government contractors and young rural men and women who are attracted to the economic package of six-figure enlistment bonuses, death benefits, and educational opportunities available in the military. Adding to the irony is that Major Hasan himself apparently enlisted for financial reasons--not because he longed to serve America. He just wanted a free trip to medical school and was willing to do his time in the service to pay for it--until he wasn't.
Being patriotic used to involve actions and not just words. Patriots were those who enlisted in the military--not those who bought an "I Support the Troops" decal at a gas station. Patriots were those who gladly paid higher taxes to support the war effort--not those who demanded tax cuts and held tea parties to complain that they had to pay any taxes at all.
The sadder truth is that most of us have substituted words, blast emails, blogs, and rants we hear and see in the media for truth and actions. The politicians and angry screamers on cable TV and the radio argue incessantly about what we should do in Afghanistan and Iraq but the fact is that most of us really don't care. Very few people could find Afghanistan or Iraq on a map or know a single soldier who has ever served there.
Each TV and radio station has dozens of hosts and guests who argue constantly over what military course President Obama should take but most of those same stations have no reporters on the ground actually gathering facts and covering the wars in which our country is engaged.
Most of us don't complain about the lack of coverage because we just don't care. Most of us lose more sleep over the ups and downs of our favorite football team than we do worrying about the fate of Americans (no one we know) serving in the Middle East.
Shortly after 9/11 most Americans wanted to know what we could personally do to help fight the new terrorist threat. President George W. Bush told real patriots to "keep shopping" and pay less in taxes--not more--even as the U.S. was about to embark upon a dangerous ordeal that would cost tens of thousand Americans their lives and health and would run up a tab of more than a trillion dollars.
That became the model for the new patriotism. Don't enlist, don't encourage your children and grandchildren to serve their country, and don't even think about making financial sacrifices to help pay the bills. Just keep shopping, vote Republican, and question the courage and patriotism of those who raise questions.
Don't worry about sending your kids to fight. We'll just keep raising the bribes we pay to poor rural kids who want and need the money enough to risk their lives and then once we get them in we'll send them back for four and five tours. Those soldiers who survive may be physically or mentally crippled for life but your kids and finances will be fine.
Since Obama was elected, it is no longer required to even pretend to care. The "I Support the Troops" decals are hard to find now. We have become sadly complacent and comfortable in our new role as armchair patriots. We're too busy getting angry, demanding new entitlements, and feeling screwed by our government as we pay the lowest tax rates in our lifetime.
Now, just a couple of weeks after the horrific murders at Fort Hood, not even the news media pretends to care so much. After an initial flurry of reports and commentary, there are hardly any news stories about the massacre. Much more airtime is being given to Sarah Palin's book tour than to the wars, Major Hasan, or his victims. The compelling and important story of the Ballon Boy got at least double the coverage.
That's the real story from Fort Hood. It's not just about a Muslim officer who maimed and murdered dozens of his fellow American soldiers. It's about the consequences of the outsourcing of patriotism in our country and the sad fact that most of us don't even care enough to be ashamed.