By Todd Cohen
Reeling from terror and geared for war, Americans need to brace for the true cost of ridding the world of terrorists.
That cost will be charged to all of us – and exact a heavy toll on those living on the margins, and the charities that serve them.
Until hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, we had grown fat and selfish, hooked on creature comforts and intolerant over inconvenience.
But war – particularly the sustained job of rooting out an underground network of terrorist cells – requires patience and collective sacrifice.
War costs money and human life, and demands a level of selfless giving that Americans have not had to make since World War II.
We have shown in the week after the terrorist attacks that we can pitch in quickly to help those in need. But the bill for fighting terrorism will be heavy and long-term.
The shared sacrifice that will be expected of Americans will test our philanthropy.
In recent years, as government has retreated from delivering social services and as corporations have focused on consolidation and global competition, charities have had to do more with less in tackling social problems that have grown increasingly complex and seemingly intractable.
The challenge for charities has only intensified in the past year as the booming economy of the 1990s slumped, stoking the demand for social services while choking the supply of philanthropic dollars.
Charities face increasingly fierce competition for those dollars, as well as the tough job of strengthening their internal operations and equipping themselves to take advantage of technology and entrepreneurial opportunity.
War will test us. Beyond simply having to learn to live with sacrifice, everyone will have to dig deep to contribute time and money to help meet basic needs in our communities.
In his recent study on the social networks in three-dozen U.S. communities, Harvard scholar Robert Putnam found Americans were growing apart and trusting one another less.
More recently, proposals by President Bush to boost the work of religious groups delivering social services has run into opposition both from liberals and conservatives who fear that mixing church and state would corrupt our communities.
We must change. Our challenge is to connect ourselves to the larger community that depends on our getting involved. Instead of isolating ourselves, we need to work hand in hand with one another and with groups that serve people in need.
Donating money is critical, as is contributing time and know-how to charities looking for ways to improve their ability to serve people.
War will tax us. Its tab is likely to show up in the form of higher taxes, more expensive goods and services, disruptions in the convenience we have grown to depend on, and an end to frivolous consumption.
War also will test American charity, and our willingness to pitch in and work together to make our communities better places to live and work.