Ancient Greeks knew war intimately, thanks to frequent conflict at the time and norms about military service that existed back then. Despite or maybe because of this intimacy with violence, audiences numbering in the thousands flocked to amphitheaters to watch tragedieslike Ajax. The soldiers in the audience experienced the movies as a form of catharsis; the citizens watched out of duty to vicariously experience the wars fought in their name.
Fast-forward two millennia. Our country has been at war for 16 years, but the verities of war remain known only to an American warrior caste: the 3 million men and women who have deployed since 9/11 and their families. In airports, at baseball games, and in shopping malls, Americans express nothing but gratitude and respect for the troops. Indeed, political debates have erupted recently over what expresses respect for the troops more: free speech or patriotic salutes. And yet very few Americans know much about the realities of our wars anymore, nor about the troops who fought them.
Read the full op-ed in Slate.