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May 5, 2009

By Rachel Baily

On a recent flight back to Nashville, I had the pleasure of sitting beside an American soldier who had served a 15 month tour in Iraq. As we talked, the conversation inevitably explored his experiences in Iraq. As he recounted his stories, I automatically started to feel a twinge of guilt.

I couldn’t intelligently speak with him about any of the current events regarding our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan because it has become such a peripheral issue in my life. I thought “Oh my God, we’re still fighting a war,” as if it were some revelation. I had hoped that maybe this was just the case for me. I think this lack of awareness is a larger issue.

Over the past two years, U.S. news coverage of the Iraq War has dropped significantly. The Pew Research Center’s “Project for Excellence in Journalism” released a study revealing that only 4% of media coverage involved any news on the Iraq War. In addition, many of the articles covered the funding of the war, not the events themselves or how our soldiers were doing.

Since 2007, we Americans have had plenty of things to occupy our attention. This past presidential election dominated all media during 2008, and the recent economic downturn has become the most pressing issue for many citizens. Understandably, we are reluctant to dismiss the fears of unemployment and financial issues.

The result, though, is that, as a country, we have become largely apathetic to this war. Those who do not have a personal connection with a soldier do not recognize the war as part of our daily lives. 4,232 soldiers have died since 2003 in the Iraq War. But we have collectively been more concerned about closing down Guantanamo Bay, the drug cartels in Mexico, taxes, and the bailout phenomenon.

We are collectively curious about our new administration. It is normal for us to be concerned about our own lives and economic situations. It is a problem, however, when we become so involved with these other issues that we forget we are fighting a war.

Forgetting two overseas wars means we have forgotten about our soldiers.

As we worry about our jobs and futures, let’s remember that the sacrifices from our soldiers allow us to live the lives that we do. Furthermore, soldiers, returning from service to this country, will face the same difficulty with rising unemployment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate for veterans has been 7.3 percent since 2001. We are all facing this crisis together, but soldiers returning from war are at an even bigger disadvantage with limited time and energy.

The freedom upon which we pride our nation comes at a high cost, a cost paid by servicemen and women. We cannot allow the media to determine which issues we will concern ourselves with when the sacrifice of human life is part of our policy fiber. Whether or not we agree about the war, our country cannot afford to be apathetic; we dishonor our military’s service in doing so.

As the soldier I sat next to told me, Americans don’t know what’s going on over there. We haven’t just committed funds to this war; we’ve committed our brothers, sons, sisters, daughters, neighbors, and friends. Let’s not forget.

Rachel Bailey is a junior Political Science major.

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