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The Exact Opposite of Sacrifice

Barun Singh

Facing the only serious threat to this nation’s sovereignty since our Constitution came into effect in 1789, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had one primary message for the American people: sacrifice. Not just by those engaged in combat, but by those on the homefront. In his famous “Four Freedoms” speech in 1941, FDR stated:

“Yes, and we must prepare, all of us prepare, to make the sacrifices that the emergency … demands. Whatever stands in the way … must give way to the national need … A free nation has the right to look to the leaders of business, of labor and of agriculture to take the lead in stimulating effort, not among other groups but within their own groups.”

In response, the entire country, still reeling from the Great Depression, answered the call. By urging every citizen to engage in the war effort, FDR was able to not only change the production mode of an entire economy, but also to unite the entire nation towards a common cause, fostering a sense of patriotism not seen since.

In contrast, consider the present day. The President has told us for the last four years that we are engaged in a “global war against terror,” one unlike any other, and one that will require sacrifice and persistence. It was a war spurred on by the only attack on American soil from without since Pearl Harbor. Despite this, where is the sacrifice on the homefront now? Where is the great cause to rally the citizenry and move the country towards a safer and brighter future?

The parallels between our current situation and World War II do not run very deep. Unlike World War II, our war was begun preemptively, is being carried out in a very specific location (Iraq), with a very small group of players (with the US acting as an almost unilateral aggressor), and was founded either on lies or dubious misinformation. And while relatively few may have questioned the ethics of joining World War II, the majority of Americans now doubt the morality of the current war in Iraq.

There is, however, one aspect of the “war on terror” that essentially all Americans do agree on, and it does require sacrifice — the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It is the only way to disconnect ourselves from the regimes that sponsor hostile terrorist activities and thus the key to success in the long run.

So what are we willing to sacrifice so that we can become energy-independent? Is big oil prepared to sacrifice some of its all-time high profit margins so that it might invest more in alternative energy research? Is the government willing to give up tax breaks for and budget allocations to interest groups (oil companies, the richest percent of the population, etc.)? Are average American citizens willing to give up their energy-wasting and utterly excessive SUVs or give up half an hour of their day by carpooling?

No. At least, not yet.

The only things it seems we are willing to sacrifice are the few remaining natural habitats left in our country. The Senate sent exactly this message by requiring the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, thus lifting a decades-old ban. The primary concern here is not just that conservation has lost out yet again to the oil lobby, but rather that this is the only answer our current administration is able to provide to the energy crisis.

The right way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil begins with a reduction in our excess consumption. We consume more energy per capita than any other nation, yet there been no real call from our government to conserve, and consumption continues to rise. The concept of changing our personal everyday habits for the sake of the greater good seems somehow anathema. But Americans have previously, when asked, been willing to sacrifice enormously on a personal level for the sake of the national interest. The rich have even been willing to sacrifice more than the poor (1944 saw a little-opposed 94 percent marginal tax rate on the rich).

The second part of the solution to our energy problem is, of course, to move towards renewable energy. Yet this administration has consistently cut the already grossly insufficient funding for relevant energy programs while increasing pork spending to record-breaking levels.

This president needs to start asking for some real sacrifices to achieve energy independence in the right way, and we must all be willing to meet that call — government, industry, and private citizens alike. The only way to succeed is if we are willing to consume less, and make the search for renewable energy our generation’s moon landing. And how can we possibly be so willing to relinquish the few natural resources we have left to give to future generations when we aren’t even willing to give up our most trivial creature comforts?