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Censorship and the Forgotten War

I was driving last weekend when I pulled up at an accident scene; there was a golden retriever  wrapped in a stretcher on the ground where it’d been struck by a car. The dog was alive but hurt badly and there was blood down its face. I got my seven-year-old’s attention so she wouldn’t see; it worked, for her anyway. As for me I can’t shake it. I’ve been thinking about that dog for three days.

Certainly the world is filled with horrors worse than this. That morning’s paper had it beat ten times over in the local section alone. But this was different because I’d seen it myself.  So it left an impact. A strong one.

So then here we are as the five year anniversary brings the Iraq War back into the headlines. Five years is a long time but it seems lately as if this war is being fought by someone else’s country. Who can honestly say their daily routine is interrupted by flashes of shock or sorrow regarding some event in the war? Unless you’ve been personally affected or been there yourself the war barely registers anymore. At least it seems that way in my office, among my friends, in my routine. When we talk about the war it’s with a lot of anger at the lies, at the astronomical cost, the sheer audacity of the administration. But rarely do we talk about how we’re affected by the violence.

That’s what you get with the most censored war in the modern communication era, which started with Pentagon-approved cable news “analysts” and “embedded” reporters that lacked any objectivity, and continues by ignoring Iraq Veterans Against the War events and enforces a ban on photographing American casualties. Just trying to find out the actual number of wounded is a government secret that takes a FOIA filing to discern. This is a disgrace.

Growing up I used to hear about Vietnam vets who were shunned when they got back, seen now as a devastating error. Yet how are we to avoid repeating this mistake if we don’t even know how many people we’re talking about? Some estimates put the number at 50,000 wounded who face unbelievable bureaucratic tangles just to get basic care. According to the AP “there’s a backlog of about 400,000 pending medical claims and complaints, especially in mental health care.” Veterans for Common Sense puts the backlog at 600,000. Utter madness.

In a different time we’d have a wide-scale anti-war movement by now. A three trillion dollar mistake alone ought to raise the wrath of even those who “supported” the war, whatever that means. But we don’t have a mass anti-war movement; we don’t have a mass-anything movement. Without question there are good people doing great things to protest the war. But for most Americans the war’s like a television series that “used to be good in the first season.” I think most people turned the channel on it some time last year, hoping it would go away, like some kind of once-interesting, soon-to-be canceled show.

Here we are approaching 4,000 Americans killed, and possibly one million Iraqis. I’m certainly not advocating for salacious pictures of dead or wounded soldiers. All I’m saying is that if a society is kept in the dark about what their government is doing in their name then there’ll be no social pressure to bring change. It’s like the hurt dog I’d seen the other day; I could tell you about it and you may say “how sad” but then you move on. It’s the seeing that makes the difference. At least it was for me.

In the meantime I think a lot of people are expecting that the next president will “fix everything”. This is a short-sighted, even juvenile assumption but, after all, this is what the candidates are selling and it’s what we expect from our presidents every time they run for office. Whoever wins in 2008 may – perhaps – face a collective wrath at what the last eight years have wrought. When Americans get roused into mass action, you end up with transformative social change. Maybe 2009 will be the year that starts it.

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March 18, 2008   |  Filed Under Political   |    Permalink

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