In case you have not noticed, America is going to war. For the average citizen, the real cost of this conflict cannot yet be quantified in economic or social terms.

Angst is up, retirement plan values are reduced, but unless you have lost a job in the post 9-11 slowdown or were related to one of the attack victims, your losses are mostly self-inflicted psychic wounds. If those in the legal profession could come up with the method, it would be wonderful in this society which so celebrates victimhood to be able to sue and reclaim what Saddam and Osama seem to have taken from us.

As with all wars fought, the real costs are born mostly by those who do the fighting and the dying, and those who love them. We often hear about how the war in Vietnam was disproportionately endured by the lower socio-economic classes and by men of color – about how the elite, the smart fat cats, as a group, were able to manipulate the system to their advantage, to pursue things other than defending freedom while those inner-city and backwoods boys went toe-to-toe with the NVA and VC.

Fortunately, the myths of Vietnam have been partially put to rest by books such as “Stolen Valor” by E.G. Burkett. Burkett’s research is encyclopedic, thorough and complete. It easily disabuses the notion still advanced all too often in liberal circles that poor whites and blacks were used as cannon fodder to fight what has been our nation’s most divisive modern-day conflict.

In the years ahead, it will be curious to see how future historians treat this war against evil and how they will categorize those who will fight it. While many still incorrectly look at Vietnam as the poor man’s war, some pine for the seeming democratization of suffering imparted by the war against Hitler and Tojo. It was not just the regular folks on Main St. who sent their sons. In those days, they also came from the richest and most powerful families. President Roosevelt’s son earned a Navy Cross serving as a Marine Raider. His special adviser, Harry Hopkins, lost a son serving with the Marines in the Pacific. And were it not for his older brother’s death in European combat, we might have had a different Kennedy as president.

The 1940 census lists our country’s population at right around 131 million. By World War II’s end the ranks of our military had swelled to beyond 12 million men and women. There was hardly a family that did not have at least one son or cousin or nephew serving somewhere in uniform. Today, our nation of nearly 300 million citizens are ably served by barely 1.5 million soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It is entirely possible, and in fact probable, that most Americans know only of a son or a daughter of a friend of a friend who is somewhere in service. The sacrifices this time are certainly not equally shared. Victory or defeat rests on the creative and physical abilities – the raw courage – of men and women we mostly do not know.

In case the reader is not privileged to have served as or to know a Marine, a bit of education is important. The United States Marine Corps, as a total organization, has no equal in the entire American experience. Do not misunderstand this as mere puffery or dogma. This takes nothing away from the other services or from the sacrifices made by those of the Army, Navy and Air Force in securing the freedoms we all enjoy. In fact, as an aside, I would argue that it was the submarine service that was the single greatest military deterrent that gave us victory in the Cold War.

What I would humbly try to reduce to words is the absolute sacred reverence that most Marines have for their Corps. Whether one has served as officer or enlisted, once the title “Marine” is earned, it is forever engraved and seared into one’s soul, never to be removed and impossible to deprogram.

Among my own Marine friends are several with advanced degrees from prestigious schools, yet it is the eagle, globe and anchor which, to them, matters most. As one Marine greets another he can be assured that their common heritage and experience binds them together like nothing else. The bond transcends time and race and class. When the Marine Corps is your “Roots,” your living family extends from those remaining octogenarians who served at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima to the young, pimply lance corporal today who just set sail for duty overseas.

As a former Marine, years retired from active and reserve duty – yet not so many that close comrades are not impacted by the recent buildup – it is with very mixed emotions that I watch these friends prepare to go and do what all Marines are trained to do.

Fortunately for us, the protected, this slice of America is anything but typical. This is the one bite from the entire gallon of ice cream that has all the chocolate chips in it. As I ponder the genuine goodness of these brave and decent men I am overwhelmed at once with both pride and sadness – pride in the complete confidence in their collective abilities to deliver us to victory, and sadness in knowing the ultimate price they and their families may have to pay.

When I think about the pending war, I think about my buddy, Lt. Col. Clarke Lethin, after whom my second son is named. Currently serving as the operations officer for the First Marine Division, he is my one remaining close friend who stayed in the Corps when most of us got out.

I still remember the day I met him. He looked to be right out of central casting. Imagine a leaner, more muscular version of someone who might be the actor Sam Elliott’s younger and slightly better looking brother and you begin to picture Lethin. The Corps is huge on looking good, but that only gets you so far. What really stayed with me, the longer we served together, was what this guy knew as a lieutenant and how the young Marines he led seemed to rally to him where most of us had to labor to get even half the level of loyalty he inspired.

While he made it all look so easy, he thoroughly became the Corps, a student of everything military. He managed to do this in a way that did not make him seem “lifer” or careerist. He was the go-to guy when it came to planning and tactics and fire support. Indefatigable, always forward and outside-of-the-box thinking, he was part of the Corps’ brain trust that managed to write a new chapter in amphibious, over-the-horizon power projection when the Marines went into Afghanistan last year.

When I think about the pending war, I think about my buddy, Lt. Col. Geff Cooper, who also served with Lethin. Coop stayed in longer than most, but ultimately left active duty to concentrate on his family and pursue a career in law enforcement. Plain spoken, yet possessing a sharp mind and a self-deprecating sense of humor, his love of Corps kept him in the reserves and this last week he has taken command of his own infantry battalion.

His unit’s departure is imminent. We spoke just days ago and I was moved by Coop’s personal humility and his genuine pride in the Marines who make up his battalion. He went on and on, boasting like a new father, about the sheer quality of the young Marines he is charged with and of all the officers who will command his companies and platoons as well as those who make up his staff.

When I think about the pending war, I think about my buddy, Col. Andy Hutchison. The Hutchison family understands first hand the exigencies and demands of military service. Like his Marine colonel father before him, Andy is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. And like his father before him, he must now say goodbye to young sons as he marches off to fulfill his duty.

Andy’s father-in-law is a retired Air Force lieutenant general, so his wife likewise knows the challenges abundant to those left behind when husbands and fathers are called to serve. A visionary and forward thinker who easily reduces the complex to terms we mere mortals can then be led by, Hutch leaves an executive position with Boeing in Seattle where his intellectual and leadership skills, no doubt, will be sorely missed. Fortunately, those same skills will be maximized in his pending assignment with the First Marine Expeditionary Force.

When I think about the pending war, I recall a message delivered to the assembled officers of the First Marine Division back in early 1983 by Gen. Robert Barrow, who was then the commandant of the Marine Corps. For further cultural awareness, understand that the commandant – and I say this with complete respect – is to the Marine Corps what the pope is to the Catholic Church.

He is the living embodiment of Marine Corps virtues. He is the grizzled, sagacious warrior-father to all Marines. His wisdom and insight is considered as near gospel. On that spring day, Gen. Barrow – a three-war veteran and Navy Cross recipient – mused in his manly and mild drawl that in all the combat in which he had participated, he had never seen a crowded battlefield. The auditorium was silent as he delivered counsel which I will never forget: “It is not how many you have. It is who you have that determines every battle’s outcome.”

When I think about the pending war, I think of the protesters, the appeasers, the America haters, Sean Penn, Tom Daschle, Bill Clinton, the French. The only thing the peace-at-any-price crowd has in common with the few warriors who will be at the absolute tip of the spear when hostilities begin is that neither group wants to go to war.

America will win this war against evil. Complete victory this time is the only option. It will be won with or without the support of Al Sharpton, with or without the support of Hillary Clinton, with or without the support of the Germans and the Chinese, and with or without the support of every Hollywood dimwit who thinks sacrifice means drinking grapefruit juice for breakfast.

This war against evil will be won because of who is going to fight it. Armed to the teeth with 21st-century technology, schooled and thoroughly trained in the latest tactics, the on-paper edge goes to our side. Far more important though than all of the precision weapons and night-vision equipment is the firmly rooted culture of victory and sacrifice and duty of our nation’s Marine Corps. It is the only organization of its size where men like Lethin, Cooper and Hutchison – the very best men – are almost routinely common.

They, their fellow Marines and the warriors of our other services are deserving of our daily prayers until all are again safely home. My longer-term prayer for America is that we, as a nation, remain worthy of the sacrifices they are about to make.

Richard Botkin, a member of the board of directors, served during peacetime as a Marine Corps infantry officer.

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