Our View: Distant war

Afghanistan seems farther away, but casualties still hit home

September 10, 2012 

Sunday's story about Americans' disconnection from the war in Afghanistan pointed out that the vast majority of us have no personal connection to the fighting. Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly, who lost a son there, said recently that the nation isn't at war.

The nation hardly seems to be paying attention. At a time when U.S. deaths are running one a day, the war isn't even an issue in the presidential campaign. The military seems to be fighting this one alone; the rest of us have gone numb to news of the killed and wounded.

Alaska's large population of veterans, large military bases and frequent deployments of Alaska-based forces keep us aware of the war and its soldiers. We know some of these folks. If we see nothing else, we see the hard days of departure and the joy of homecomings, and know that this war is current events, not history.

What started the war in Afghanistan happened 11 years ago today, also on a Tuesday. The terrorist suicide attacks brought down the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, damaged the Pentagon and killed a jetliner full of people when it crashed in Pennsylvania.

Like the war it sparked, 9-11 can seem distant now too.

Talk at the time about "this generation's Pearl Harbor" was wrong. We don't hear much about the Global War on Terror anymore, although U.S. and allied forces continue to fight terrorists in more ways than one. The nation came together 11 years ago, but the unity of those days is long spent, and today we're divided.

The division is hard set, but it's hard to say how truly deep it runs, or for how long it will. Common ground seems to be no man's land, and common good is an expression you don't hear much.

But all this division wasn't the work of the men and women who answered the call right after 9-11 and have done so since. They've served and fought in long and sometimes repeated deployments to rough places where the objectives have changed, where victory isn't clear cut, where eternal vigilance is no guarantee of survival.

Americans' support for the war in Afghanistan war was temporary. Forces went there to nail Osama bin Laden, strike hard at terrorists and topple a regime that gave sanctuary to those terrorists. That they did. This can't, however, be a forever mission. Now most Americans want our troops out and common sense says that's right.

But we should remember that the prices paid by many who fought are permanent -- in loss of lives, limbs, loved ones.

As one Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan described it, you get a wounded buddy out on a helicopter, you tell yourself he's going to be all right, he's in good hands. Later you find out he had most of one leg amputated, and after your service is over, you visit him. He's got a good attitude, a great wife, a baby on the way, and you're glad for all that. But it's still hard to see him, and to think about other Marines gone for good.

We shouldn't go numb to that.

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