A few reflections after two nights (4/15ths) of The War, a film by Ken Burns:

So far so good. Perhaps it is not the Civil War--but, then again, it is not 1990, Ken Burns no longer has the advantage of surprise, and this war is full of moving images, which makes the narrative much harder to control.

Having said that, I am enthralled--waiting breathlessly to see how it all ends. Well done.

An obvious comparison between then and now is the role of public sacrifice during the time of war. If we did not know already, we see clearly how the WWII generation practiced self-denial and sacrifice on the home front as well as the battlefield. A critique of the Bush administration centering on this divergence has become so ubiquitous in recent days as to seem cliché.

For that reason, I have refrained from making the following observation in print, on the blog, or on other electronic media (until now). Long before I knew what a blog was, the Okie Gardener and I would converse over lunch in a mom and pop Mexican restaurant in Waco during the weeks following 9-11, agreeing that the President must address the nation and ask for sacrifice. Thinking as students of the American past, the reasons were obvious: to win we needed investment of body, soul and mind. Today, among the President's many errors in prosecuting this war, none looms larger than his incapacity to connect the citizenry to the military and the mission in a meaningful way.

However, the exclamation of exasperation most often hurled against President Bush, "instead of sacrifice, President Bush asked us to go shopping," while understandable, is patently off the mark. Quite frankly, America did need to go shopping after the attack. Consumer spending drives the twenty-first century economy, and a robust economy really is the key to keeping this war afloat.

Watching the Burns documentary reminds us that the United States did not prevail in the Second World War because of the wisdom of our leaders, the bravery of our soldiers, the genius of our generals, or the sincerity of our people. Undoubtedly, all those things were true--but they were also true of Germans, Italians and the Japanese.

We persevered and emerged victorious in the long and destructive war because we out-industrialized the great industrial powers of the twentieth century. In the simplest terms, the American economy was key to the American triumph. Shopping was not the basis of our economy during that war--but it may be now.

We are one economic downturn away from crisis—and one crisis away from defeat. That is, a major recession would make further prosecution of the war in Iraq, already unpopular, completely untenable.