If you're reading these exact words on Daily Kos, then congratulations, you're probably more informed than most of society on current events. You're part of an exclusive club. Only one in four Americans can proudly say they belong to it. The prerequisites, though, aren't very difficult to maintain. The only requirement? Knowing how many of your fellow countrymen have died in a five year old war.
That was a question in a survey of 1,508 adults between February 20-24 conducted by the Pew Research Center:
Since the start of military action in Iraq, about how many U.S. military personnel have been killed? To the best of your knowledge, have there been around:
A. 2,000 deaths
B. 3,000 deaths
C. 4,000 deaths
D. 5,000 deaths
In a month or so, the number will reach 4000 Americans killed. Of course, only 28% of Americans know that.
What's to blame? News coverage? The public? From AFP:
"The drop in awareness comes as press attention to the war has waned," the report said.
A scant three percent of news stories in February were devoted to the Iraq war, compared with around 15 percent in July last year, and the US public has not perceived the war, which began nearly five years ago, as a top news story since October, the report noted.
When I came home from Iraq six months ago yesterday, news and interest seemed to follow me. A simultaneous outcry in the media and our government that the surge was working made it okay for Americans to tune out last fall. In fact, according to the survey, more people know what the Dow is currently at (31% guessed 12,000 points). I'd struggle to explain what the Dow is exactly, but more people are interested in their pocketbooks and reality television instead of men and women fighting, and in nearly 4,000 cases, dying.
One could argue that this is a vicious cycle set by the media, reporting what only the public wants to hear. But they're only reactionary to apathy and ignorance. The Iraq War isn't sexy anymore. No more testimonies by General Petraeus, no more speeches about the surge. Just anonymous men and women in the desert for fifteen months at a time while America spends its stimulus checks at the mall.
Being a part of modern history and coming back to society was a surreal experience. I couldn't put my finger on the feeling until a month after I returned and I was at home for a couple of weeks. I looked around to see signs of a war raging across the ocean. I had to dig deep for any news and figures from a place I was just two months prior. When folks I met found out I just got back from Iraq, they asked if I was in Baghdad. Some asked if I was in Iran. When I told them I spent the last five months in Baqubah, they'd respond with a disappointed "oh." It was obvious they hadn't heard of the city that CNN declared the most dangerous place on Earth while I was patrolling it with a five man squad. They hadn't heard of the city where two of my friends and twenty of my comrades saw their last moments of life in a war forgotten, ignored and passed over by the public that sent them there.
Society hasn't been compelled to care. There should be an intrinsic amount of empathy and understanding for a country that sends an all volunteer force to war, for there exists a very basic relationship between the American public and its military: go to war, and you'll be taken care of. With veteran's health care in a dismal state, education assistance that's more of an insult than a benefit and two wars being fought with 1/10th of the forces needed to accomplish the goals set by the administration, we seem to have lost our way. The first step is always information, which is getting cut short by the media that is acting on the willful ignorance of the masses.
There is one thought that stays in the back of my brain day and night. 3% of the news in February was dedicated to the Iraq war. That number is incredibly low.
So what about Afghanistan?