War? What War?
At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, again the media -- this time free, cable and internet -- assailed us with imagery of this war. Unlike the Vietnam War, the stories came to us from embedded reporters and the soldiers themselves and filled us with pictures of daring, of courage, of military might... These images caused us to pump our fists, beat our chests, weep in sadness and aroused in many a sense of long‑missing patriotism. Will any of us ever forget the images from the Thunder Run to Baghdad? Or Saddam's statute toppling amongst wildly celebrating Iraqis? Whether people supported this particular war or not, a generation that had been scarred or were ashamed by the post-war treatment of Vietnam vets and the children and grandchildren of that generation overwhelmingly embraced America’s fighting men and women.
Now, approaching the second anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I'm appalled by the paltry news coverage afforded our soldiers. It’s not just wanting to see news about my child, it’s news about any part of the battle. Something’s going on there and I sure as hell would like to know what it is. Most nights, it's the third or fourth story on the evening news. It will be the lead story only if there has been some massive carnage or France or Germany has discovered that their flies are open again. I can't recall the last time I saw a story reporting on the progress being made in the reconstruction of Iraq. Leaving aside the talking heads on the Sunday morning programs (which is so much BS and spin anyway), I spent the better part of the day switching between cable news outlets. Absent. Not there. Were it not for the fact that my son and 149,000 of his closest friends are actually participants, you could almost assume from the lack of coverage that there is no war. The quarter hour critiques by the "experts" and Wall of Heroes have been replaced by stories of Martha and what that coulda/shoulda/woulda mean for the economy, the appointment of a new chairman of Disney and why that particular media outlet thinks that's important, and (currently) the dissection ad nauseam of that reprobate in the Atlanta court house killings accompanied, of course, by the next round of "former police detective and now crime analyst" opining who did what rightly or wrongly in the case. Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry" was never truer.
Living a bit on the edge, I get DOD press releases via email. Some days I get 30 releases containing news about weapons systems, quotes and sound bites from military officials, officer promotions, human interest items. Some report the latest casualties. That’s Monday through Friday only. Saturday and Sunday I'm lucky to get five releases in two days. You'd think the war and anti-Iraqi forces took weekends off! Now, I know that there are many dedicated military public affairs people and that they do in fact work weekends and nights and that they don't intend to appear indolent... But perception is everything. And since DOD releases are the food of the media (and inter alia, the public), it’s no wonder the media isn’t paying attention. I would be heartbroken to think that the conflcts in Iraq and Afghanistan had become "just another day at the office" to anyone whose job it is to keep the media and the public aware.
I have a general impression (shared by many other military parents) that the lack of interest by the spin hooties has settled on the American public. It's not that I think that the American people have forgotten our troops; it's just not a priority anymore (for some it never was). Old news. Life goes on. I am always openly grateful when someone acknowledges my yellow ribbon pin or the personalized yellow ribbon magnet on my car (My Son Proudly Serving, OIF3, 2005 and the division insignia) and am effusive if they ask me to thank our son for his service. We are also fortunate to have friends and acquaintances that show they care by routinely asking how our soldier and his friends are doing. And we are blessed to be a part of a network of family and friends -- even those who oppose the war -- who not only verbalize their support of our troops but have magnanimously shipped goodies and gear to our son and his buddies. However, these are people who feel personally connected to our soldiers and I think the number that feels some connection may well be a minority. It is both moderately depressing although perhaps predictable.
As the parent of a soldier I suppose I’m more high strung than most on the issue and perhaps I'm even judging against much too high a standard -- one that asks the media and the American public to at least appear to give a shit about the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that have their guts on the line. And maybe I'm a bit hypersensitive but I seem to be bothered just as much by the appearance of apathy as apathy itself. Seems to me if you’re grateful and/or you care, you ought to say so or show it in some manner.
Perhaps I'm looking at this all wrong? Perhaps I should be thanking God for the lack of coverage on the time-honored adage that "No news is good news!" Yup. Glass half full.