My younger brother is going back to war, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
But I’m pretty sure I know how the rest of the country feels.
Three weeks ago, three U.S. soldiers were killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan. I challenge you to find their story in any national media website. If you do, it likely won’t be more than a few sentences. Another sour note in a war by which most Americans are hardly affected and have already tuned out.
But I feel something different. I check the casualty reports every morning. This war is real to me. It’s my younger brother going over there, for God’s sake. Won’t somebody pay attention? Doesn’t anybody care?
I bought a “Red Friday” shirt a few weeks ago. It’s a trend, probably not widespread, to wear a red shirt every Friday to honor the men and women still deployed. The usual question I get when I wear the shirt is, “What’s that for?” When I explain, the response is typically, “Oh.”
I also bought a yellow ribbon pendant to wear on my lapel, I changed my Facebook profile picture to one of my brother and me hugging after he got back from his first deployment to Afghanistan. I wear a wristband that says “support our troops.” I put an American flag sticker on the back of my car. I’m screaming as loud as I can, but my voice is mute.
The fact is our country is tired of war. The sadness of it has drained us. The anger and sense of patriotism that fueled our interest in the aftermath of 9/11 is mostly forgotten now, and we have fallen into the same old trap of underestimating the threats to our country and not wanting to interrupt our comfortable lives with the uncomfortable reality of the big bad world outside our borders.
Think about what’s going on in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Mali, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet and on and on and on and on. There are dark, violent places in this world. You wouldn’t know it, though, based on the faces of people I saw at P.F. Chang’s on a recent Wednesday night. Or, when you watch the nightly news and the endless bloviating about this party or that one and whether so and so will run for president 32 years from now.
We forget that our sons and daughters are still in the sand of the life-and-death arena of combat against a savage and determined enemy. We put them there. Yes, we, and that means you, too, and it is our apathy toward the blood and treasure spilled in our name that has kept them there.
We call them heroes. Some old veterans might give them a hat and a few candy bars when they step off the plane. But as a country, we have figured out that it’s easier to call someone a hero on their return than to have the courage to do the right thing and pay attention to the harder, uglier part of the story — to actually care about the war.
I had a conversation with an old friend the other night. She told me she respected why I, as a veteran, became a journalist, and she understood my reasons for wanting to write a book about the wars. But she also told me something I didn’t want to hear: “People don’t care. You won’t change anything.”
She may be right. In fact, I’m pretty sure she is. I’m fighting against reality TV, multibillion-dollar political machines fighting for airtime and a national attention span the length of a commercial break.
But I don’t care. He’s my brother, damn it, and I’m proud and scared about him going back to war. Until he comes home, I’ll continue to scream and shout as loud as my voice will carry, and maybe, just maybe, someone will ask why.
Nolan Peterson, news editor for the Sarasota Observer and Pelican Press, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He was an Air Force special operations pilot with more than 250 hours of combat flight time. He is a Sarasota native.
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