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Perhaps the death of the 1,000th soldier in Iraq last week will force America to start talking about the right war again.

While hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops are at risk every day in

 
 

Iraq, voices at home continue to pick at the scab called Vietnam. Guns last fired in 1975 echo louder now than they have in years. The Vietnam War is a conversational tractor beam that refuses to release hearts and minds. It was a war so destructive, apparently, that we are unable to talk about anything else.

But what about those of us for whom Vietnam is a history book or a vacation spot? Are we left to think that our war -- the one on terror, the one in Iraq -- is not

 
 

important enough to be a campaign issue?

Our war, the one our friends and family members die in, is happening now. It is the war we will tell our children about if they are not still living it themselves. Of the 1,000 dead, 855 were under 35. To honor them is to care for their surviving comrades. But it is so easy to forget them when the actions of two men over 30 years ago trump everything else.

Younger voters have the capacity to consider Vietnam in a detached manner. It is almost this simple: Kerry went and Bush did not. Nothing else really matters. What does is the fate of our friends and peers in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever else the times take them. So address that, Messrs. Kerry and Bush. Your service record (or lack thereof) is not nearly as important and what you plan to do for us, today.

But instead we are bombarded with punditry on whether President George W. Bush fulfilled his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard. Or if Sen. John Kerry's actions in Vietnam were honorable or despicable. This is the central campaign issue that drones on night after night on cable news and occupies valuable page space in our nation's newspapers.

People born after 1970 have only the most tenuous connection to Vietnam. Perhaps our fathers fought there before we were born or our mothers protested it before even considering our existence. Teachers who served teach the war in the classroom. But always in history class.

Any good student of history realizes that the Vietnam War, snowballed with Watergate, civil rights, the sexual revolution and the counter-culture, changed America forever. Vietnam represents such a sudden and violent spike on our national EKG that it is no wonder we have trouble putting it past us.

And in the 25 years of relative peace and unprecedented prosperity following the Vietnam War, there was plenty of time for introspection. September 11, 2001 changed the topic of conversation, for a while at least. But our national obsession with Vietnam is so magnetic that those who set the tone of discourse in this country cannot resist it. Not even when there's an entirely new war to get upset about.

The Vietnam War took over 58,000 American lives in the 17 years spanned on the Vietnam Wall. Will it take that long and that many deaths for our current leaders to have a similar obsession with Iraq or the War on Terror? Kerry and Bush must run with an eye to our future; their past is their own campaign.

 

Aileen Gallagher is a managing editor at The Black Table.