A proposition by Tom Brokaw
But it's unfair to put all the burden, and the risks, on the military. A United States general told me he was worried that Americans back home didn't appreciate the challenges and sacrifices of his troops. "Where are the victory gardens?" he asked, referring to the World War II home-front effort to show solidarity by growing fruits and vegetables so more food could be shipped to soldiers overseas.
Conditions in Afghanistan won't get a lot better any time soon. The military is expected to be involved in a big spring offensive against Al Qaeda that will probably mean more combat and less time for community projects. The participation of civilians, then, seems all the more important. But if it's too dangerous for them to be on the ground in Afghanistan, why not find other ways for them to participate? There are no ready models, but modern technology may be part of the answer.
Here's one idea. American corporations, service clubs, education and health organizations could adopt villages and provide each with a generator to power donated computers and large-screen televisions. Then American and Afghan doctors, teachers, carpenters, soccer coaches and the like could appear in instructive software, videotape or television programming to supplement military efforts. Another possibility would be to convert one of those go-anywhere Afghan trucks into a classroom. Load it with computers and conferencing equipment and go from village to village.
Such a program would not replace the Army, but it would add a civilian face to the efforts to build a civil society. It would also tighten the bonds between the military and the American people. It could be the 21st century equivalent of a victory garden.