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Iraq and Afghanistan: America's invisible wars

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"I would say that of our wars that have involved 100,000 servicemen or more, this has had the least engagement from the point of view of the public and society of any major conflict in our history," says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and coauthor of the book "Toughing It Out in Afghanistan."

The reasons for the country's disengagement are familiar. Unlike major conflicts of the past, the present ones have not involved a draft, sparing the vast majority of young men and their families of the worry or reality of being directly affected by the wars. The dangers and casualties of these wars have been borne only by volunteer soldiers.

During the Bush administration, Americans were even prevented from seeing the most emblematic evidence of that danger: the sight of coffins bearing the bodies of American soldiers returning to this country. (President Obama overturned that policy early in his term.) The number of American soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan now stands at 5,401. More than 58,000 died in Vietnam and 405,000 in World War II.

President George W. Bush bucked historic precedent in another way. Not only did he not raise taxes, as occurred in almost every past major war, he actually passed a tax cut. There would be no shared sacrifice even on financial grounds.

The policies of holding Americans harmless renders the war remote and unreal for most, says Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, a Vietnam veteran, and the father of a soldier killed in Iraq in 2007.

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