Note: The following op-ed appears in the print edition of The Hill for Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007. — Ed.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Marine Corps Gen. and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace testify before Congress today they should tell the American people the whole truth about what military leaders believe without sugarcoating the magnitude of our challenge or issuing false pretensions of unanimity.

America is today engaged in three wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and against al Qaeda while some are promoting a fourth war against Iran while our military faces extreme breakdowns, the president and his party wage war through vetoes and filibusters and the Senate debates a newspaper ad.

The hard and bitter truth is that after Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMajor overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees GOP has always been aggressive in trying to weaponize the system of judicial nominations MORE (D-Nev.) reached out to senior Republicans, with skepticism from both parties, and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) reneged on his support for the Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) amendment to rationalize troop rotations, the slight hope for bipartisanship was destroyed.

Ken Burns’s documentary about the Second World War demonstrates why the Iraq war has gone disastrously wrong, and how honorable leaders can set things right:

Our troops should not be abused as fodder for campaign ads. Our generals should not be actors in a public relations drama. It is time to tell the country the truth, explain the hardships and ask every American to join the effort.

In the Second World War America stood with unity. Hollywood stars joined Wall Street scions; millionaires and taxi drivers faced death together.

Every American joined in the battle. Workers surged into the factories. Women came to Washington to join the war effort as secretaries and in Naval intelligence.

When we needed boats to take Normandy, an entrepreneur mobilized the entire city of New Orleans to build them. Seniors and the handicapped joined blacks in the segregated South and accomplished the mission as citizen soldiers standing together.

World War Two was a soldiers’ war and a people’s war. Throughout the free world everyone did his or her part together. Americans did not pass tax cuts during wartime; they bought war bonds to support the troops.

Imagine if FDR addressed the world and vowed to answer Pearl Harbor by invading Ethiopia. Imagine if battleships were burning at Pearl Harbor and FDR summoned Americans to go shopping, while his partisans prepared negative ads attacking leaders of the opposition who were awarded bronze and silver stars for valor.

Imagine if FDR had told Americans to be fearful and afraid, and then allowed American casualties that were preventable because tax cuts were more important than body armor and armored vehicles to save the lives of American troops.

Never before has a president so aggressively divided the nation with our troops under fire; not Washington, not Madison, not Lincoln, not Wilson, not Roosevelt, not Truman, not Ike. No president has ever done this.

Never before has any president used war to create fear, rather than inspire courage.

Never has any president refused to ask the nation to join the effort, and told us to enjoy tax cuts and shopping while troops suffer preventable deaths, many wounded return to substandard care, veterans centers remain dramatically underfunded, disabled vets suffer shameful mistreatment and the number of homeless heroes rises.

Never has a president mocked the Geneva Convention, poisoned the good will of the free world or put rules of military justice under such sustained attacked.

Never has a president created such a corrupt occupation: more than $10 billion of Iraqi cash and more than $10 billion of American aid lost or stolen. Huge amounts of American weapons smuggled to murderers by abuses in military procurement and crimes by civilians operating outside the rule of law.

We are the heirs to the greatest generation that fought through a Depression, defeated fascism, rebuilt Europe and won the Cold War because whatever their differences, they always knew that we are in this together.

Things have been done in our country, by our leaders, in our times, that have never been done before, and must never be done again.

Will we be known by historians as the partisan generation? The shirker generation? The fearful generation? Or will we belatedly rise to the occasion, learning the lessons of the heroes of our greatest generation, who knew that America can do anything if we are honest with each other and united in our purpose?