Why our Afghanistan War Dead don’t Seem to be News

Tom Engelhardt makes an argument for why the US casualties in Afghanistan are nowadays virtually ignored by television news and get buried in the back pages in the print media. He suggests that the war dead are mostly young, rural or small-town, and working or lower-middle class.

It is certainly the case that if the children of the billionaires or even the millionaires were getting blown up in Ghazni and Khost, it would be more of an issue for America’s elite-oriented press and television. (I’m aware that some children of the elite do serve, but let us face it, the all-volunteer army is not a cross-section of the country; rather some social classes and regions are over-represented).

But I think the story is more complicated than just the social origins of the dead soldiers. After all, the Iraq War was a very significant campaign issue in 2006-2008, and Americans seemed to mind our military casualties over there during those years, and the press reported the war; and the social composition of the military was the same then.

I wrack my brains for why the US public seems decidedly uninterested in the Afghanistan War, and why they would deliver the ultimate insult to our troops of just not caring if they hear about it when 6 US warriors are shot down in a single day.

(Google analytics tells me my hits go down when I blog the Afghanistan War or its Pakistani dimension. Me, I don’t blog for hits, so I don’t really care. But if I were working for advertising-supported news corporation, I’d have long since been fired for my insistence on writing about things I think are important rather than what the public says it wants to hear about).

I am sad to report that I have concluded that the relative silence on our Afghanistan war dead has to do with the workings of our two-party system. Americans are great followers of sports where two teams oppose one another. They become fierce partisans of one team over the other. They have the same approach to economic life (iPhone vs. Android, Kindle vs. Google ebooks, X-Box vs. Playstation, etc.) They join a “team” in their minds and grow absolutely scathing about the other side. Republicans and Democrats are teams for them. It may be the real reason a third party is so hard to mount; it does have to do with the first past the post electoral system, but it may be also that you can’t root for more than one team at a time, so it is more convenient to have just two parties if you have a binary mindset.

So here’s the reason the whole bloody Afghanistan war is off the radar: it isn’t a partisan issue. The Republican Party, except for a few Liberatarians, is solidly in favor of the war and would apparently like to go on fighting it for decades if only they could. But the Democrats cannot oppose the war (as they eventually opposed the Iraq War) because their own president has implemented a surge and is dedicated to prosecuting the war. The rank and file Democrats may not be very happy about Obama’s adoption of the war, but they are loathe to attack their own party leader (i.e. many of them feel as though they have to support their team).

In the United States of America, if you cannot get an argument going on a partisan party basis, then it just tends to be ignored and to generate no buzz.

If the Republicans had retained the White House and a Republican president had done an Afghanistan surge, I think there would have been big demonstrations against the war by the Democratic faithful and Democratic representatives and senators would be denouncing it big time. People would have noticed the dozens of troops being killed every month now.

One reason for the partisan character of social knowledge in the United States is that people organize their opinions by party. My colleague at the University of Michigan, Brendan Nyhan, has discovered that when people are presented with information that contradicts deeply-held opinions, they tend to reject it and to cling to their original opinions even more strongly. This reaction is called ‘backfire.’

So partisan Republicans start out with an opinion that their party leaders were right to take us into Afghanistan, and that we are fighting al-Qaeda there, and the mere mayhem in that country cannot shake their conviction. And Democrats start off with a conviction that President Obama is wise to wind down the Afghanistan War through an initial troop escalation. If you tell them what is really going on in Afghanistan, it won’t necessarily convince them that their premises are incorrect, and your challenge may even confirm them in their prior support of the war.

(The independents don’t ruin this analysis because in a two-party system there aren’t really very many true independents, there are only part-time Democrats and Republicans, a group that swings between the two, just as some sports fans may abandon a long-cherished team if it languishes at the bottom of the rankings for too long, and some other team emerges that is more exciting).

It is a dispiriting conclusion. Arguments in the United States are very seldom about right and wrong for their own sake. They are about Supporting Your Team.

Since no advantage would at the moment accrue to either Team from opposing the Afghanistan War, there is little opposition to it. And since it isn’t a partisan debate, the television reporters in particular are mostly uninterested in it. Even most print editors don’t put it on the front page very often.

It can very occasionally happen that a lot of people in a party turn on their own party. Some ten percent of Obama’s vote in 2008 was from conservatives disgusted with George W. Bush and Dick (“Wanted in Lagos”) Cheney. And, infamously, the left wing of the Democratic Party revolted in 1968 against the Establishment’s support for the Vietnam War. The revolt, however, just had the effect of putting the pro-war party in power and, probably, of extending the war. A left-Democratic revolt against Obama might well have a similar effect, of ensconcing the Republicans in the White House for a decade or more.

Other reasons than the lack of partisan wrangling over the war may be playing a part. Nearly ten percent of American workers are unemployed (a statistic that actually refers to people in between jobs; the truly unemployed stopped being counted years ago). They have domestic issues on their mind, and don’t have the luxury (or perhaps even the high speed cable service) to follow Afghanistan obsessively.

I think Nyhan is right only for short-term challenges to people’s convictions. Over 4 or 5 years if something they started out believing keeps being proved wrong, many of them will eventually back away from the belief. I saw that happen, it seemed to me with glacial slowness, during the Iraq War.

If I am right, then the next time we’ll hear a lot about Afghanistan will be if a Republican wins the presidency in 2012. By mid-2013, the Democrats will likely be holding big anti-war rallies and carrying posters of the dead soldiers about whom we have so much trouble hearing in 2010. All of a sudden, their faith in their party and dislike of the other Team will line up with opposition to the Afghanistan War. Until then, those thirsty for knowledge on the subject will just have to content themselves with reading Tomdispatch.com.

31 Responses

  1. Well put Juan! In 1971 Werner Erhardt described this in his EST TRAINING. He
    said many people consider themselves to be “their point of view” and will unconsciously
    defend it as though their survival depended on it.

    He also asserted that in this culture at least people are much more interested in answers
    than in questions. Thus the skill of modern politicians in manufacturing simple answers
    to complex questions, thus dumbing down and even eliminating legitimate consideration
    of the kind of issues you continue to explore. Keep up the great work! Dan

  2. This may come as a bit of a shock, but quite a few Americans are, to use a quaint and antiquated term, patriots. Their team is America, and it is through this lens that they see international conflicts. The morality is generally not deeply questioned, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, the war that (according to Obama, even) ought to have been fought rather than Iraq.

    With Petraeus a popular figure and constantly saying how the war is being won, and the press not having any real way to second guess this impression (since they can’t claim to know better), there is no “story” here except the occurrence of death itself. That’s a sad thing, but it’s an expected thing.

    I must say, though, I don’t think it’s safe to conflate American journalists with “Americans.” American journalists may have difficulty seeing a story, but ordinary Americans hold very deep reservations about how the war is being conducted. Nonetheless, they are not generals, and they identify with the American “team.”

    Myself, I’m a Canadian who reads your blog regularly, and I see that there are a great many problems with the conduct of the war; I see it as a lost cause. Many Americans agree with me according to the polls. They have zero political ability to actually bring about a withdrawal. They also want to support the troops actually in the field. This is natural, routinely abused by politicians, and frankly, normal.

    • These aren’t teams. They are armies. These armies aren’t American versus non-American. The armies are entirely American and they consist of conservative corporatists versus progressives. Afghanistan is a proxy war for our domestic war and presently it has “fallen off our radar” because it is seen as a distraction from the battles ocurring on the real war front – Washington D.C..

  3. Professor Cole, I can only speak for myself on the anti-war-fatigue/peace fatigue/Afghanistan fatigue issue, but I’ve gone through the phases of grief and seem to have ended up at acceptance (though a white hot ember of fury still burns deep within). Whatever will be, will be with this perpetual war phenomenon.

    Our government has mutated into an openly corporate controlled theatrical performance. When I went to DC (from Washington state) to protest the Iraq surge back in ’07, it was hard not to notice the Boeing paraphernalia (gold plated spy satellite models and such) dominating the decor in my congressional delegations’ offices. Violence is the answer to none of our, “end of life as we know it,” problems, but it’s the only solution our system can offer. Thus, trying to engage, “the system,” seems pointless. Also, there were about 1 gazillion more people at those anti-war protests than at any of these Tea-Party freak-a-thons, but they somehow managed to get a whole heckuva lot more press (and congress members).

    I was a big Kucinich supporter back in the primary (I know, I know…), but was willing to go with the flow on Obama once he hit his stride campaign-wise and was on the verge of buying into the program, until he slipped a little too much Rick Warren into the mix. Anyway, our dove turned into a more voracious hawk than even Bush was! (kind of reinforcing my whole, “they’re all the same, this is all pointless,” theory)

    Now that the draft issue has been neutralized, there will never be another mass movement against the (endless) war because not enough of the population is going to ever be directly involved with a dead, maimed, or seriously addled kid who got conned into joining the Army to care.

    Having read your blog more or less daily for several years, and my personal apathy/acceptance aside, I believe it must be true, or at least possible, that all of our, “problems,” in Afghanistan/Iraq/elsewhere are deliberate. Since you’re able to explain the cultural and ethnographic issues in play so well, and I must assume that our entire government apparatus has information gathering and analytic skills at least equal to your own, the only answer is that all of this really is part of some kind of Cheney/Obama/Strangelove master vision. It just can’t be that our government is that incompetent, or we wouldn’t be able to run nuclear submarines, and land space ships on comets, or whatever…

    Anyway, my fundamental motivator for getting involved in anti-war protesting was the troops… the kids we’re collectively brainwashing into going abroad to do violence for our corporations to gain access to industrial materials (or block access to our adversaries’ corporations). I remember how stupid I was at 18 (and I was fairly, “smart”). You must see the naivety of youth in motion daily with your job… I would just watch the roll call each night on the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour sobbing, as it would go on and on. Some nights there would be 15 or 20 men (kids) at a time. So, in addition to feeling pretty upset about all the innocent people getting shot up at check-points needlessly, killed in reckless nighttime military sweeps, blown up by militants (tribal defense militias) targeting our soldiers, as well as being victimized by straight up war crimes (as evidenced from as far back as the Deryk Schlessinger incident to today with the Stryker brigade soldiers from here at Ft. Lewis), I feel especially bad for all the young soldiers scammed into getting killed (or killing) so that some fat-cats can get even richer than they already were.

    However, short of some pretty revolutionary events, possibly involving everyone who is in possession of a Cartier watch being sent to the guillotine, there seems to be no way for anyone to stop anything. Thus, the anti-war fatigue, apathy, and acceptance. Our country is too fractured ethnically and culturally (and deliberately misinformed) to get a really good revolution off the ground.

    I care about Afghanistan. I’m genuinely curious about Afghanistan and how it could possibly be that at virtually every turn we make exactly the wrong move. But, it’s ultimately boring to keep beating your head against the wall, if not painful. The dark part of it is that there doesn’t seem to be much left to rescue. A bunch of lard-asses driving alone in a V-8 powered SUV burning imported oil with a magnetic yellow ‘support the troops’ ribbon on the hatch to go buy some imported plastic crap at a mall are going to be a hard sell for my peace initiative, and then I’m supposed to lay my equal rights and environmental sustainability trip on them too?!? Nothing will ever change. Might makes right just as much in 2010 as 1910 or 1810…

    • As Edna St. Vincent Millay once said:

      “Yes, I know.”

      “But I do not approve.”

      “And I am not resigned.”

      Despite your obvious and understandable frustration, it does not sound to me as if you have truly resigned yourself to injustices which you know of and do not approve. As Barbara Tuchman wrote in The March of Folly, “the American government react[s] to intimidation from the rabid right at home.” A more pathetic illustration of this truth than President Barack Obama one could not possibly hope to find — both as regards domestic economic policy and “foreign” policy — by which we mean domestic economic policy under another misnomer. The “rabid right at home” has only one overriding policy, as Professor Paul Krugman explained in his book The Great Unraveling, namely:”an end to all taxes on capital.” Understand that, and you understand the American government’s domestic economic policy and its collateral, supportive policies of internal repression of individual rights coupled with external aggressive imperial militarism: both designed to keep the citizenry frightened, uneducated, and impoverished into acquiescing in its own enslavement. Again, to see this nakedly rapacious policy in action, one need only witness President Obama’s hapless capitulation to — if not outright connivance with — this “intimidation by the rabid right at home” in its tireless quest for “an end to all taxes on capital.”

      We also need to analyze and debunk the rabid right’s Orwellian destruction of language (for the hoi polloi) as the principle instrument employed to make a countervailing critical analysis impossible. Again, listening to President Obama consciously dropping the “g”s from off the end of his verbs and gerunds — “itchin’ for a fight” (some other time) — in pathetic imitation of Deputy Dubya and Sarah Palin’s phony “down home” diction, illustrates just how spineless and obsequious the “opposition” to”the rabid right at home” has become. America doesn’t even have a President (of either party) who can speak like a thoughtful, educated person anymore without fear of ridicule by the braying mob for his or her “arrogance” (note the Orwellian substitution of “arrogant” for “educated.”)

      Getting back to official Orwellian gobbledegook related to Afghanistan in particular, I don’t think one can find a more telling example than the following from our chief commanding General Motors General, David Petraeus the other day:

      “I think no commander ever is going to come out and say ‘I’m confident that we can do this.’ I think we say you assess, we believe this is, you know, a reasonable prospect.” General David Petraeus, 12/6/10.

      As George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language: “The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism.” So, to assuage my own frustration at our President and General itchin’ for fights and talkin’ like they might someday, perhaps, stumble upon something somewhere (either in America or the Hindu Kush) that might possibly constitute an “aspirational goal” in only a few more years of “Friedman Units” (after a decade of them), I composed:

      The Inflated Style as Euphemism

      The general has started talking funny
      Like, never stating what he can achieve.
      Instead, he babbles jargon for the money,
      Which means he plans for us to never leave.

      We’ve been there now so long that few remember
      How many times we’ve heard the same old song.
      Our plans, those scruffy foreigners dismember
      While we proclaim that we’ve done nothing wrong.

      The President has donned his bomber jacket
      To have his picture taken with the troops:
      For conquerors, cheap tools that serve the racket;
      For statesmen, simple patriotic dupes.

      Our President and General have blundered
      And now can only stall for yet more time
      While citizens back home whom they have plundered
      Refuse to see the nature of the crime.

      We went to “war” with tax-cuts for the wealthy
      And exhortations to consume and spend.
      Now broke and begging from the thieving stealthy,
      Our leaders will not say when this will end.

      Our presidents and generals stage dramas
      And wave the bloody shirt while spouting gas
      To keep us safe from peasants in pajamas
      And poppy farmers smoking hash and grass.

      We did this once before in Southeast Asia
      As names upon a granite wall attest.
      The country, though, prefers its euthanasia:
      The laying of all memory to rest.

      So let us listen raptly to the latest
      Inflated euphemism coined to quell
      The slightest thought that we might be the greatest
      Bullshitters in the history of Hell.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2010

      None of this changes anything, I know, but somehow I feel a little less frustrated with the lurid spectacle of my country’s inarticulate implosion. Orwell said that we should openly jeer at the pompous pretenders pitilessly pelting us with their vapid and venal ventriloquism. I, for one, intend to do my part.

  4. Your analysis is optimistic if one believes that society is static; that is, what it’s like now is what it has always been like. The latest generation is the one of indifference.

    Moreover, the political parties of the U.S. have merged into rule of the wealthy for the wealthy (with “What else matters?”).

    And, ultimately, I wonder whether Obama will be compared to Hoover, as someone utterly incapable. Or perhaps buy him a lyre?

  5. You’re right about the team mentality. The trick might be to get Americans interested in the larger “team,” by somehow getting through to us that the two wars and our unholy alliance with Israel are taking money out of our pockets and are hurting our country. Unfortunately, Americans don’t respond unless we think our ox is being gored. The Vietnam war was protested in large part due to college kids and their parents fearing the draft–their ox was definitely being gored, so they “teamed up” against the government. Binary system again. As you note, the kids serving in Afghanistan may be there because they have few options in life, and the rest of us are too busy watching sports and “reality” shows on television to care. So–it would take a real trick to get people to understand how war and foreign affairs matter to us and hence to make us once again a team against our government’s policies.

  6. I can’t help thinking the apathy relates to the fact that the average American prefers to believe what Petraeus and Gates say about the progress being made against the Taliban rather than to face the reality that it is futile to try to bring modernity to Afghanistan by bombing parts of the country back to the stone age.

  7. The war in Afghanistan — formerly known as “the good war” — does seem to have lost its entertainment value.

  8. Maybe the notion is not an exact fit, but I don’t see a lot of evidence for the idea that people confronted with the falsity of some belief structure via a deluge of facts undercutting it will “back away from the belief.”

    I bet all across the country there are people who believed every serial bullshit sally from Joe McCarthy and R. Nixon and Roy Cohn, completely ignored the flood of contrary reality, and now, today, are gloating about a restoration of HUAC and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, so those “commya-nists” can finally be rooted out of their deep-cover holes in that Beast, the Big Government. Cf, of course, Farhad Majoo’s wonderfully depressing, futility-anomie-and-who-cares-inducing work, “True Enough.” link to crunchgear.com.

    As to treatment of the Hallowed Dead GIs, so many of whom like Pat Tillman were killed by, ha ha, “friendly fire” (a growth industry, it seems, compounded by “improved lethality” of “smart weapons” fired by excitable young males predisposed to shoot first in fear of being shot first), or by IEDs most often made from just-left-lying-around or given-to-“friendly”-warlords 105 and 155mm artillery shells and 500- and 250-lb bombs, all Made in America:

    Here in the Tampa Bay area we have the HQ of CENTCOM, at MacDill AFB. The theatre set, on which the Noble Sacrifice Morality Play is being played out, is the route from the airfield at MacDill along one of the main arterials to the cemetery in the Home Town from whence the Noble Warrior set out to Make the World Safe For Democracy by Killing Wogs Who Dare Resist Invasion, Pacification and Democratization, or Dare to Kill Any Of Their Band of Brothers. There’s a mawkish story in all the local papers about the young high school sports hero or bad-kid-turned-good-by-a-dose-of-military-discipline, how he loved his mother and little sister and was a good Scout and all that, the route of the cortege with the Flag-Draped Coffin is announced, and then the route is lined with American Flags and weepy-eyed patriots with media photogs angling to make it appear like a continuous wall of people over the entire 10 or 15 mile route. (I happen to have one of the flags used to drape coffins in WW II, which was placed over my uncle’s dead remains when he was planted in an earlier manifestation of this ceremonial.)

    There are other enormous asymmetries at play in all of this. What is actually happening, day to day, in what the Military has determined is its “area of responsibility,” and what people insist on rolling out and painting Red, White and Blue to let them be comfortable that the Great Drama is unfolding according to the pre-ordained feel-good script that has absolutely nothing to do with that ugly reality. And it will go on until the mercenaries finally sack the capital and there’s no more concentration of wealth to break down, divert and steal into more futile acts of attempted conquest.

    Shades of the late Roman Empire, or the Third Reich, or any number of dead-end Great Nations of the past…

  9. This idea of people arguing for teams rather than right or wrong is intriguing. I wonder how far the argument can be taken

    Dave

  10. Professor,

    The team sports analogy is more correct than we would like to believe. It is even more dispiriting to realize that ignorant US voters voting for their team (or against the other one) have more effect on voters in faraway nations does the voter’s own vote. The pervasive team mentality is supported by the nature of popular American sports. Virtually all major American sports are episodic: run the play, then run another and another until the clock runs out. The US military is configured the same way: run a play (the Surge, COIN), huddle, run another play. The ‘play’ has a beginning, end, and rest period, and viewers delight in quick, unexpected moves. Many war history books are built on a play-by-play model.

    But the ‘play’ model doesn’t perform well in many situations, particularly in wars of occupation. Americans were treated to lots of plays in Viet Nam, starting with the Special Forces and helicopter assault plays. In terms of that war’s outcome, they didn’t work. The sequence of ‘new’ military plays hasn’t worked in Iraq and it’s not working in Afghanistan. Non-Americans play different types of games by different rules that ‘trump’ our games. But we keep on playing the same game and ignore losses with the promise of another new play. I see the military recently advertising a new ‘game changer’. It’s a grenade launcher. Same game. More blood on the ground maybe, but the outcome will be the same. None of the underlying causes are being addressed. The only ones who benefit are the military manufacturers and war profiteers.

  11. Juan,

    I think the two-party system is part of why we our indifferent to our own casualties in Afghanistan, but for a different reason. Speaking for myself, I simply don’t see any viable opportunities to change the situation. I do not have the belief, or faith, that the citizenry could alter the political system in order to end the war. Luke also touched on this point.

    Explicitly or implicitly, I believe many people feel the same way. Perhaps this is apathy – or a blend of apathy and realism. I wouldn’t want to argue that the majority of Americans believe this, but I do think as a country many of us know, on some level, that when it comes to the most significant choices our government makes, we are effectively disenfranchised.

  12. The team conceit is fine, but the lack of political infighting is merely one aspect of the lack of interest. More significantly, there is no demonized “enemy” or “boogeyman” to pique the interest of the typical American.

    First, there’s no identifiable villain; no Hitler, no Osama, no Saddam. Second, Americans who have and continue to watch “Rambo III” and the Taliban take on the Russkis just haven’t gotten around to hating and fearing their former allies.

    Other reasons abound. Third, those we’re propping up are corrupt as Hell. Fourth, the Average American can’t really understand just for what we’re wasting American lives and money. Fifth, there’s an appreciation that NO ONE knows.

    Now on the other hand, all this vagueness leaves Americans uneasy about OPPOSING the war. So everyone just . . . neglects it.

    Sad. So sad.

  13. One major factor should be added: the war doesn’t cost enough, the enemy isn’t dangerous enough to merit much notice.

    When NATO strategy fails in Afghanistan, the negativities are all still “externalized,” to use an economic term. When NATO blunders, it is mostly Afghans who die. When negativities are external, it’s hard to get rational and responsible decision making from the actor concerned.

    NATO casualties have been quite low, for a war that has gone on for a decade. The financial cost is a very small share of GDP.

    Put it this way: Ben Bernanke creates more new money in a few weeks, than the Afghan War costs in a year. As long as the Chinese and the Saudis continue to accept USD, why reduce the amount spent on war? Meanwhile, Congress passes more tax cuts!

    As long as the dying soldiers are recruited mostly from an uncomplaining underclass, then who cares about the losses, which are light in any case?

    Even that underclass gets the consolation that they are working as part of a greater and more glorious Empire. That’s more consolation than they’ll ever get from their own domestic economy. Hence the overclass will again and again be able to get the loyalty and devotion of the underclass.

    If the Taliban, like the NVA, could kill or wound tens of thousands of Western troops, then you might see the war brought into question.

    But let’s face it: from a Western perspective, occupying and pulverizing Afghanistan is easily affordable, in both human and financial terms.

    Only a strong moral opposition, that ranks Afghan lives and the Afghan future as important as our own, could stop the war. Not likely! Isn’t that why a Balance of Power has always been so important for freedom in history?

    My own country, Canada, has the same lack of attention and debate about the Afghan War.

    In Canada, too, there is bipartisan agreement about waging the war. For example, even though PM Harper only has a minority government, a three-year extension of the Canadian expeditionary force sailed through Parliament without a murmur.

    There was a Wikileaks cable from Berlin that suggests that all the so-called “training missions” in Afghanistan are nothing but a sham used to gain public acquiescence in NATO countries to an extension of the war.

    link to wikileaks.ch

    In the cable, even the US official uses scare-quotes around the “training battalions” !

  14. You could seperate the real left from the phonies, including not a few Move ons, when Obama appointed Petraeus w/o opposition. On financials, however, you could
    separate them according to those who remained silent when he approved the banker’s bailout with Bush, pre-election.

  15. The elite under-represented? Wertsch, in her book, “Military Brats,” (1991) found compelling evidence that when it came to an undeclared war fought to ultimately be lost, military officers and politicians did their best to see that their children did not become cannon fodder. I know this first hand, and many should remember the curious path one individual took to get into the Texas Air National Guard and stay away from combat or much in the way of other duties as well.

  16. .
    while it is sorry that the American public cannot work up a sweat over a colonial invasion, and the American boys killed in it,
    I am more deeply troubled that one American boy has been held as a POW by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani gang, held for more than 18 months,
    and almost nobody knows or cares.

    on 11 November, I tried to walk to the POW memorial service in Arlington National Cemetery with his name on a 2′ X 3′ sign. Park Police in SUV’s and cruisers chased me down, lights flashing, and ran me off.

    In front of the Lincoln Memorial that day, half a dozen POW-awareness groups had set up camp. They were agitated that we left boys in Vietnam, but none of THEM even knew who Bowe Bergdahl is.

    I walked up and down the National Mall with my sign on Veterans’ Day, past the White House, telling everyone I met about his situation. Out of more than 700 people I talked to, fewer than 10 knew about him. A couple of preachers from the Philippines knew more about him than most US active duty military folks I encountered. Looks like Juan is right about the complicity of the domestic media.

    I was a GI when I was his age. I got the treatment: refused service in a restaurant in my hometown because I was in uniform, e.g. My fellow soldiers got the same, and worse.
    Now it’s hard to find anyone who will admit to treating soldiers that way back then, during the Vietnam war. Everyone claims to “support the troops.”
    And I cannot stop thinking how lonely SPC Bergdahl must feel. His entire Chain of Command, up to the Commander in Chief, has abandoned him.
    The Army is supposed to have this Code of Honor thing, that says we won’t ever leave a fallen comrade behind. Guess we gotta update that to reflect the new realities.
    Didn’t Geo. Washington say that the way to judge a society was to look at how it treated it’s vets ?

    Whether you’re religious or not, I ask everyone who reads this to offer a prayer for Bowe.
    .

  17. Very well argued, Juan. Even in Canada, a similar notion applies–not a binary logic, perhaps (although a ‘mainly binary’ political logic is arguably the name of the game), but certainly a sensationalist one.

    The style of this post is excellent. We need more analyses of our own predispositions, just like this. The world is infinitely complex, and as both societies and individuals, we each have our own default methods for parsing that complexity… binary sports-team thinking being one (unfortunate) example. It’s a good point, and one that needs to be made.

    More, please!

  18. If it takes a 2-opposing-teams contest about a situation to get ordinary Americans to take interest in the situation; then perhaps a place to introduce some team-versus-team conflict would be within the Democratic Party itself. If a genuinely “cut and run from Afghanistan” primary challenger were to fight Team Obama for the 2012 Democratic Nomination, and fight in the rudest and most unsportsmanly way possible;
    then public onlookers might decide to take an interest in rooting for one team or the other. If Team CutAndRun were actually able to defeat and destroy Team Obama for the 2012 DemPres nomination, then the Democratic presidential campaign team would become Team CutAndRun. The Republicans would become Team StayTheCourse. Americans would have a choice of which team to root for and which team to root against. The Afghan War would become an important football field for political sports fans all over America. It could become the World Superbowl Series of political grudge fights.

    The political-effectiveness difficulties which Luke Ryan cites probably concern enough millions of people that those millions of people could have a system-redirecting impact if they gave up on ineffective methods and found some effective methods instead. I don’t know for sure what those methods would be. They would have to be diffuse and non-illegal to avoid meeting with immediate repression from the authorities. I suspect those methods would have to involve millions of changes of personal economic behavior by millions of those concerned people. Perhaps millions of little changes might cause a big shift if the changes are the right changes. Suppose, for example, that 50 million people who imagine themselves to be “peace-minded” were to
    stop using credit cards for all but emergency uses? How much revenue would cease to flow to the major credit companies? How inspiring and hope-generating might their visible loss of size and power be?

    Such a “shift the system” movement might develop a culture of passive-aggression,
    sullen rejection, uncivil obedience and so forth; designed to slowly erode certain carefully selected pillars of system and regime power. At the same time, people who see eachother engaging in such passive-aggressive peacefully obstructive behavior might also support eachother in creating parallel mini-cultural and mini-economic spaces and systems.

  19. If the Republicans win the presidency in 2012 the Democrats will be focusing on salvaging the remnants of the middle class.

  20. I think your evaluation is very much on point, and I would add a couple things.

    At the micro level much of the outrage is missing beacuse the dead are volunteers rather than draftees. Instead of “You forced him into this war and killed him,” we have, “He died doing what he loved doing, defending freedom.”

    At a more macro level we have the complicity of the corporate media, which will always serve the best interest of the current power structure; which has, at its core, the corporate money base.

  21. I think the reason is simpler than all that. America experienced an attack from Afghanistani soil, and therefore people supported the reaction. But Iraq had done nothing to America and that’s why the war was a hard sell.

  22. In addition to all of the above, in my opinion, the apathy results from the situation being out of our citizen’s control and in the Pentagon’s control; that people are disgusted with the war but the perception is that we can’t do anything to stop it.

  23. I’ll offer a slight twist to your partisan explanation (which I think is largely on-point). I’ve basically given in to despair over the issue. “My side” won the election, supposedly conducted this big policy review and came to a conclusion with which I vehemently disagree. The “other side” already held that position (just even more extreme). I was pissed about it, I’ve written a bunch of posts on blogs about, but at the end of the day, my position has been decisively defeated. We’re in Afghanistan, probably until 2014 (or worse). We doubled down. I have relatives over there. They’re gung-ho, committed to the mission (whatever the hell the mission is).

    So I don’t pay as much attention as I used to. Not because I don’t want to criticize “my side” but because I despair…

  24. USA is a multifaceted machine, full of moving parts in need of fodder to keep it grinding away. Those at the top control parts of the machine and benefit from their positions. Those less fortunate get ground up with no apologies.

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