How much do we all really know about the war in Afghanistan?
Today, if we're up on the news, we know that General McChrystal is out thanks to bad decisions about embedded journalists and some crazy things he and his subordinates said in a Rolling Stone magazine article, and that General Petraeus is in, drafted to take over even though he was really looking forward to some time with U.S. Central Command in Florida.
But on a day-to-day basis, we don't get a lot of information about Afghanistan. Did you know that it's the longest-running war America has ever been involved in? When I think of long American wars on foreign soil, I think first about Vietnam.
I grew up watching the Vietnam conflict on TV. I saw it every night on the evening news. First in black and white (yes, there was such a thing), then in color. But each evening from the time I was just a little older than my fourth-grade daughter is now, I remember seeing the terribleness of war -- soldiers and guns, helmets and helicopters, bullets and body parts, all being brought to me every night on one of just three television networks (there was no such thing as cable TV) by brave reporters, and their TV network executive bosses who believed in the importance of Americans seeing for themselves what was happening halfway across the world in a land where no one even thought about speaking English.
Even though I was relatively young to be seeing the horrors of war, I did see it and it impacted how I thought about the world, our lives, and the role that journalists and news programs play -- particularly in how we understand the places far from us and the things that happen there that can have direct and indirect consequences on our own lives and the lives of our families.
So I have to ask -- where is that kind of coverage with Afghanistan?
How often do we see on TV news what's going on there, another remote country halfway across the world where speaking English is almost unheard of? I hardly ever see it. And from what I can tell, out of sight means out of mind for many of us. Sure, we get all the "inside the beltway" politics and intrigue about who's dissing the President and who's toeing the line, but where is the reality of what's happening there? If we don't see it, we'll forget about it. Maybe that's what some want. But I just keep wondering why in this age of so much media coverage of everything from Lindsay Lohan's alcohol ankle bracelet to Larry King interview with Lady Gaga, why there seems to be so little bandwidth for the war in Afghanistan?
If we were confronted with it each night, the way we were with Vietnam, we might be more outraged that it's still going on and that our soldiers are still dying there -- dying for what sometimes seems like no good reason just as so many died in Vietnam. Except that there is a better reason to be in Afghanistan than there was for Vietnam -- the high probability that if we leave, it transforms into a base of violence to be used against the United States by Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda wannabes.
The war in Afghanistan has been going on for close to nine years and thousands upon thousands -- Americans and civilians -- have died. But I only know that because I've spent time looking for that information, not because our news outlets think it's an important story to cover. I don't see nightly visual images about how horrible the war is and it's time we see it in the same way we saw Vietnam -- not with invited, "embedded" journalists, but from independent reporters who believe it's important for us to know what this war really looks like.
It's obviously newsworthy to write about General McChrystal being replaced and why he's no longer in command of the mission in Afghanistan. But since visual images are usually worth more than a thousand words, it's time for our news organizations to start showing us more of what's going on there -- then maybe we'd all be able to work up the collective outrage needed to end that war before any more of our soldiers get killed.
You can read more of Joanne's opinionated take on politics and news at Speaker of the House!