nobody pays much attention

In the United States, November 11 is called Veterans Day. In other parts of the world it’s called Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. The latter is appropriate since it celebrates the anniversary of the day hostilities formally ceased in the First World War. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

Ninety-five years. And what have we learned? Aside from more efficient and more impersonal methods for killing, not a hell of a lot. We’re still fighting wars, we’re still fighting them for the same stupid reasons, and at the behest of the same powerful business and political interests. Young men and women are still killing and dying in foreign lands. And nobody is paying much attention.

U.S. Army Pfc. Michael W. Daley Jr. (right) and Pfc. Travis B. Woolwine, both Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), scan their surroundings while on patrol in Paktya Province, Afghanistan / Photo by Sgt. Justin Moeller

U.S. Army Pfc. Michael W. Daley Jr. (right) and Pfc. Travis B. Woolwine, with 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), scan their surroundings while on patrol in Paktya Province, Afghanistan / Photo by Sgt. Justin Moeller

As of this date, 402 troops have died fighting in Afghanistan this year. Most of those (310) were US troops, but soldiers and marines from the UK, from Poland, from Georgia (the former Soviet state), from Romania and Slovakia and Italy and Germany and Australia have also been killed.

In the last few days 42-year-old Warrant Officer Ian Fisher of Barking, Essex in England was killed in an IED attack in Lashkar Gah in Helmund Province. Army Sergeant 1st Class Forrest Robertson, 35 years old, of Westmoreland, Kansas was killed by small arms fire in Pul-i-Alam in Kogar Province — also known as Bab al-Jihad, the Gates of Jihad, because of the savage fighting between Soviet troops and mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan war. Army Specialist Angel Lopez, 27, from Parma, Ohio was killed by small arms fire in a Green on Blue attack in Zabul Province. Twelve deaths in the first nine days this month. The youngest was 19 years old. Nineteen years old — Jeremiah Collins of Milwaukee wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer. Dead, 7000 miles from home, in service to his country.

US Army Spc. Kevin Jackson, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls security during a reconnaissance mission in a village south of Forward Operating Base Fenty, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2013 / Photo by Sgt. Margaret Taylor

US Army Spc. Kevin Jackson, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls security during a reconnaissance mission in a village south of Forward Operating Base Fenty, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2013 / Photo by Sgt. Margaret Taylor

All of those troop who’ve died have families and friends, they have fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, they have wives and husbands and children. Outside of their families and friends, hardly anybody will notice those deaths. Because nobody, really, is paying much attention.

I mentioned this earlier in the year. At that point there were about 70,000 US troops serving in Afghanistan; today there are about 60,000. Combat operations by US troops are slated to end in late 2014 — but even then the US will likely leave between 15,000 and 30,000 troops in the region. And be sure of this: some of them will be fighting and dying.

Cpl. Zachery K. Arrowood with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, provides security during a patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 12, 2013. The patrol was conducted to disrupt enemy activity in the area / Photo by Lance Cpl. Zachery B. Martin

Cpl. Zachery K. Arrowood with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, provides security during a patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 12, 2013. The patrol was conducted to disrupt enemy activity in the area / Photo by Lance Cpl. Zachery B. Martin

There’s still only one media outlet that routinely pays attention to the troops serving in combat zones — the liberal muckraking magazine Mother Jones. They still publish their brilliant photo series We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day. I don’t know how many people bother to look at the photos. Not enough. Not nearly enough.

Why? Because the war is primarily being fought by strangers — by people we don’t know and don’t care about. Historically, wars have always been fought primarily by the poor and working class. Officers, of course, usually come from the middle classes, but most of the killing and dying has been done by the underclasses. The demands of twelve years of war — the longest war in US history — have exacerbated that problem. The gap between the people who initiate the wars and the people who actually fight them is greater now than ever before. And the mass in the middle — which includes most of the American public — are estranged from both groups. And so when a soldier gets killed in some dusty desert, very few people are affected, and nobody pays much attention.

Marines and Georgian Soldiers with 33rd Georgian Battalion exit an MV-22 Osprey aircraft during an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 23, 2013. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165 provided the service members with aerial support during the operation / Photo by Cpl. Ashley E. Santy

Marines and Georgian Soldiers with 33rd Georgian Battalion exit an MV-22 Osprey aircraft during an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 23, 2013. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165 provided the service members with aerial support during the operation / Photo by Cpl. Ashley E. Santy

On Monday — Veterans Day — I’ll meet with my brother and my cousin, both of whom served in the Marines, and we’ll attend a breakfast given by a local grocery store chain (Hy-Vee), just as we’ve done for the last few years. There’ll be a lot of old veterans there — a handful from World War II, a few from Korea, some from Viet Nam and Iraq and Afghanistan. The food will be mediocre — but better than what we’d have gotten in the mess hall back when we were in uniform.

Nobody will be there just for the food. We’ll all be there because we’re veterans, and on this one day some folks will pay attention. Most of the veterans sitting down to breakfast will have scars, physical or emotional. Some will be missing limbs. And every one of us will, at some point, remember somebody who was wounded or killed.

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, patrol near Forward Operating Base Musa Qala, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 19, 2013. The Marines of 3/7 patrolled to reduce enemy activity in the area / Photo by Lance Cpl. James Mast

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, patrol near Forward Operating Base Musa Qala, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 19, 2013. The Marines of 3/7 patrolled to reduce enemy activity in the area / Photo by Lance Cpl. James Mast

As we enter and leave the breakfast venue, the volunteers from the grocery store will thank us for our service. And they’ll be sincere, because they’re working people. Some of them will be veterans themselves, or have family members who have served or are still serving. During the day a lot of politicians will also give public thanks for our service. Some of them will be sincere and some of them will mean it. Damned few of them, though, will actually understand what service to the country¬†means. It means sacrifice. When most politicians speak about sacrifice, they’re talking about other people.

On Tuesday the 12th, the world will forget us for another year. Troops in Afghanistan will continue to go out on patrol. Some of them will get wounded. Some will get killed. And nobody will pay much attention.

Editorial note: The photos above were shot by members of the military, and published in Mother Jones magazine.

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12 thoughts on “nobody pays much attention

  1. My mother, in the ATS in the Second World War, is furious everytime she hears that someone ‘laid down their life’.

    They didn’t; she always says. They were killed – and if the war is not just they should be on someone’s conscience.

    But they are not. The days when anyone in a politician’s family went to war are long past.

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    • There are still a few politicians in the US who have family on active duty, but it’s pretty rare. Even the number of office-holders who are veterans is declining. And if you have no personal experience with military service, I suspect it would be easier to make the decision to deploy troops.

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    • Yeah, one of the primary problems with an ‘all volunteer’ military is that there’s no longer any sense of shared sacrifice. And let’s face it — the ‘all volunteer’ military is made less voluntary when the volunteers have few other employment/education options.

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  2. Thanks for posting this, Greg. I remember the story of an old Bulgarian man who had participated in WWI and fought against the French. “Imagine seeing the enemy, walking towards you, in lovely uniforms, grey with colorful piping, all beautiful and spruce. How do you shoot at this kind of enemy?” I don’t know what he ended up doing.

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    • This, I think, is what’s remarkable and horrible about all this war business. For the most part, the people who do the fighting don’t really have anything against the ‘enemy.’ They’re just carrying out policies created by people who wear suits and sit in offices.

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  3. So often you make me laugh, but being a vet and not having served in this conflict makes this even more painful to read, knowing the truths are in black and white if we can see through the tears to read them.
    Maybe they’ll get mad like me and look for ways to make a difference for the ones who have technically made it home.
    I’ll be subscribing to MotherJones too ;-) Thanks, Greg.

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    • I don’t agree with everything Mother Jones says (or, for that matter, with everything anybody says), but I’m happy to support them if only because they continue to remind us that the faceless and nameless troops in Afghanistan aren’t faceless or nameless to their families or their comrades-in-arms.

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