Let's pretend it's December 1941, and you are reading the following newspaper story.

Let’s pretend it’s December 1941, and you are reading the following newspaper story.

… President Roosevelt and congressional Republicans blamed each other today for the attacks that occurred at Hawaii and throughout the Pacific by the Empire of Japan.

The president was set to ask Congress to declare war following the attacks, which killed more than 2,000 Americans at Pearl Harbor. But Roosevelt was unable to create a compromise solution that would satisfy Republicans on one hand and members of his own party on the other.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, was a day that will live in infamy,” Roosevelt told reporters. “And so I call on Congress to create a supercommittee to figure out what to do next. I know we shouldn’t kick the can down the road, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” …

Hard to fathom our elected officials in 1941 acting with such casual disregard for the country’s welfare, isn’t it? And yet that’s very much the situation that exists today in Washington.

This time, the enemy is not an outside attacker. This enemy is within, and it’s our own irresponsibility.

Between 2008 and 2011, the national debt increased from 41 percent of the gross domestic product to 68 percent. The last time such a trend line occurred was between 1942 and 1946, a period of time when it reached 109 percent of GDP. Of course, the United States was fighting a world war at the time.

You would think that kind of escalating debt would be alarming enough to cause elected officials to act. And yet 2012 will be the fourth straight year that the federal government will spend more than $1 trillion more than it will collect.

How big is a trillion? It’s $3,333 for every person in the country. A trillion one-dollar bills stacked on top of each other would be 68,000 miles high. A trillion seconds equals 31,456 years. If you spent a million dollars a day starting when Christ was born, you would be only three-quarters of the way to a trillion dollars.

The United States government owes more than $15 trillion.

There’s no end to the red ink in sight. In 2012, the government will spend $1.6 trillion on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s 44 percent of the federal budget. According to the Concord Coalition, an anti-deficit group in Washington, because the population is aging and because health care costs are increasing, those three programs alone, along with interest on the national debt, will consume all federal revenues by 2025.

That’s 13 years from now.

If we want to have any other government services — a military, border security, the FBI, highways — we’ll have to raise taxes significantly or cut spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

It’s going to be very hard to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The challenges the country faces are no secret, just as the aggression of the Japanese and German armies was no secret in the years prior to World War II. But unlike Pearl Harbor, this is one attack we see coming.

Then, the country was divided on how to respond, and thus the United States was woefully unprepared to enter the war.

That changed on Dec. 7. When Roosevelt stood before Congress asking for a declaration of war, it was as an American president, not a Democrat. Only one representative voted no. The entire country mobilized and made tremendous sacrifices during the next four years.

Now the country is approaching another Pearl Harbor moment when it will have to respond decisively. This time, nobody will have to run up a beach amidst a hail of gunfire or fight their way across Europe. Our grandparents were asked to risk death for their country. We’ll have to reduce government programs and give up some tax deductions.

Judging by last year’s debt ceiling debacle and this year’s presidential campaign, we’re not ready to fight. We’d better be soon. Eventually, future generations will read about us. If we keep passing on this debt to them, we’ll be the ones living in infamy.

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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas.