Iraqi rocket attacks strike close to home

June 6th, 2011 by John Creighton in Snapshots

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LONGMONT, Colo. 06/06/2011 — Modern warfare lets most of us off the hook. Is that good for our nation?

News that five U.S. soldiers were killed in a Baghdad rocket attack brought the war closer to home for my family. I had just settled in at my desk this morning when I received a call from a good friend and colleague. I knew something was wrong by the tone of his voice.

His son is alive but badly injured. He was among the sleeping troops when three rockets struck the U.S. forces’ barracks. As my friend said, “At least he’s talking to me.” The parents and spouses of 4,459 American troops can’t say the same.

In this Nov. 3, 2007 file photo, the helmet, boots, dog tags and weapon belonging to fallen U.S. Army Spc. Brandon Smitherman from 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division are silhouetted as his comrades pay tribute at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi security officials said Monday, June 6, 2011 that a rocket attack has killed five American troops in Iraq. Earlier, the U.S. military said in a brief statement that five troops were killed but gave no additional details about where the incident occurred or how they died. (Image: Associated Press)In this Nov. 3, 2007 file photo, the helmet, boots, dog tags and weapon belonging to fallen U.S. Army Spc. Brandon Smitherman from 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division are silhouetted as his comrades pay tribute at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi security officials said Monday, June 6, 2011 that a rocket attack has killed five American troops in Iraq. Earlier, the U.S. military said in a brief statement that five troops were killed but gave no additional details about where the incident occurred or how they died. (Image: Associated Press)

Listening to my friends’ gratitude, grief and fear elicited in me my first truly visceral feelings about the war. Hours later, a knot continues to grow in the pit of my stomach.

My family is like most Americans. We are several steps removed from the war. I don’t go to bed dreading that the phone might ring with unthinkable news. I don’t worry every minute of every day knowing that a person I love most in the world is in grave peril.

I, like ninety-five-plus percent of all Americans, can push the war out of my mind for long stretches of time. War is so far removed from daily life that, at times, it just becomes background noise. We hear the war news but it doesn’t really register as important.

Today is a case in point. The news of the attack on U.S. troops was prominently featured on many mainstream media news websites, yet the story barely registers on the news sites’ most popular and most read lists. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s admissions that he’s a lewd Tweeter are sure to dwarf any story about our three wars.

Have we Americans become so numb to war that we don’t really care? Recent polls suggest we don’t. “War/Iraq/Afghanistan” registers as a top concern for only four percent of adults nationwide.

We Americans are good at recognizing our troops. Many of us are quick to say “Thank You” when we encounter a young man or woman in uniform. We stand in ovation at parades and celebrations. At a recent high school graduation I attended, the only ovation of the day was for the five (out of 231) graduates who enlisted in the Armed Forces.

American business understands our desire to recognize our troops, too. American Airlines, for instance, trumpets its policy to let military personnel board planes first and encourages everyone to tell our troops thank you. They want us to know they care.

But what’s behind our reflexive celebration of those who serve? A good friend, career military, commented to me while he stood to be recognized at a Sea World dolphin show, “I sometimes wonder if they do this for us (men and women in uniform) or themselves.”

In this June 9, 2009, file photo, a girl peers from her front gate as a U.S. Army soldier from A Co., 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment patrols in western Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (Image: Associated Press)In this June 9, 2009, file photo, a girl peers from her front gate as a U.S. Army soldier from A Co., 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment patrols in western Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (Image: Associated Press)

I have thought often about his comment ever since. Is the applause I add to the ovations for military personnel genuine? Or, is it just a habitual courtesy, done without thought?

And, what about the advertisements? Isn’t there something inherently cynical, even if well intentioned, about using actors portraying service men and women as a tool to drum up business? Is it appropriate for our troops to be relegated to commercial icons?

It requires very few people to wage modern war. That is a good thing and bad.

We, the masses, are largely disengaged because there is nothing for us to do.  Thus, it is easy for us to support (or ignore) war without thought or deliberation.  We have nothing meaningful at stake.

How else does one explain that going to war with Libya barely elicits an off-hand remark at most dinner parties and backyard barbeques?

It should be of grave concern to us all that war has become so casual. With so few of us engaged in thinking and caring about our wars (let alone directly involved), political leaders don’t have to be accountable. It’s possible to have unfocused or misguided war policy year after year because, at the end of the day, only four percent of us give a damn.

Meanwhile, parents and spouses of young American soldiers go to bed each night dreading that the phone might ring before they wake.

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John Creighton writes on community life and public leadership at johncr8on.com. He can be found on Twitter @johncr8on and on Facebook. Read more of John’s work in Dispatches From The Heartland at the Communities at the Washington Times.

One Response to “Iraqi rocket attacks strike close to home”

#919   March 3rd, 2012 by Kim kranich

Good post as usual, John. I do give a damn and it has less to do, admittedly, with the soldiers in our all-voluntary military then the civilians of any country where the war is being waged. They suffer the greatest number of casualties. Sryia is but one recent example. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have my son or daughter at war. I would hope he or she would not make that choice. For those who do, I have a lot to learn from them.

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