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 V.19 No.35 | September 2 - 8, 2010 

Thin Line

How We Fail

We are a country at war. And not just with immigrants. Reading the news these days, who can tell which brown people absorb the most American vitriol?

Immigration is a decoy that right-wing political strategists dumped into the media Crock-Pot. The timer is set for Nov. 3, the morning after Election Day. While we sample that nasty stew, salty enough for a race-focused public, Iraq and Afghanistan escape the heat altogether. After all, frustration with the wars is part of what got President Obama elected.

The media fails in its duty to report on the wars. In the last couple of years, stories about them, their successes or failures, have been few and murky at best. (It's anybody's guess as to how many Iraqi civilians have been killed. The press doesn't know. An independent research organization, Iraq Body Count, has called for a British judicial inquiry to find out.) As I write this, on Monday, Aug. 30, I find news of seven more American service members killed in Afghanistan today, pushing the total up to 14 in the last 48 hours. The story of their deaths in the New York Times is summed up in five brief paragraphs.

“People that haven't been there just don't understand.”

Iraq War veteran Micah Shaw

But at least the fighting in Iraq is over, right? Tuesday, Aug. 31, marks the end of the combat mission there. A final ceremony. Speeches. It’s on the news. Soldiers step off planes onto American soil, and fewer than 50,000 troops will hang around Iraq until the end of next year to train the country's forces. Mission accomplished.

Mission ... what mission? That's the harsh question returning veterans are asking. "People that haven't been there just don't understand," veteran Micah Shaw told the Alibi [" The War Followed Him Home," Jan. 21-27, 2010]. When you acknowledge the war is wrong, you acknowledge your participation in it was wrong, he said. That's tough to face.

I spoke to Shaw and other members of Iraq Veterans Against the War after Kenneth Ellis III was killed by Albuquerque police in front of a 7-Eleven at Constitution and Eubank. Ellis, an Iraq War veteran, was pulled over for bad plates in January, and he exited his car holding a gun to his head. Police shot him because he refused to put the weapon down.

The other veterans in the story pointed to all the systems that failed Ellis, to all the ways he wasn't helped before he steped out of that vehicle, talking to his mother on his cell phone, committing suicide by cop.

We make the mistake of allowing our wars to drop off the media's radar or to become obscured by politically divisive immigration smoke. We can't let that inattention hurt these veterans a second time. We know the U.S. will have well more than 1 million former military members on its hands when all is said and done. Let's hope the media can bear in mind our vets’ mental, physical and financial well-being before the headlines become heartbreaking reminders of how we fail.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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