War in Afghanistan has been forgotten

On Oct. 7, 2001, the United States entered into a war in Afghanistan that has lasted longer than anyone could have expected, but it needs to end soon. Our going to war was predictable once there was information linking Afghanistan’s now deposed ruling party, the Taliban, to the terrorist organization Al Qaeda.

Americans quickly tired of the fighting and started to ignore it, even though we should have wanted to know what was going on. However, Americans were not just tired of this war, but tired of war in general. Assistant Professor of History and Political Science Chad Martin said that a few years into the war, Americans did not even want to watch shows about World War II on the History Channel.

“They [Americans] had war fatigue. And I think that what happened is, by the time America got out of Iraq, the American people were just sick of these wars and had tuned out,” Martin said. “And they’re not tuning back in.”

The war in Afghanistan now receives around 2.8 percent of the total media coverage, after a spike in 2009, according to the Pew Research Center.

Likewise, the Tyndall Report, which covers nightly newscasts by the top three news networks, said that fighting in Afghanistan has been a main topic over the past decade, but it was only the eighth most covered topic in 2011.

According to Martin, this is because the United States has learned to fight large-scale wars while keeping its casualty numbers low and not instating a draft.

“Compare the [casualty] figures between the Vietnam War and the Afghan struggle… If we had those kinds of numbers coming out of Iraq or Afghanistan, you would have seen a much bigger protest movement. You would have seen politicians voted out of office,” Martin said. “Who’s getting voted out of office because of Afghanistan?”

Still, casualty numbers continue to rise. According to a September 2012 Congressional Research Service report, 2,106 American soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan. Star News Services said that  Indiana-based 713th Engineer Company returned Sept. 26, after less than a year’s deployment without six of its soldiers who were killed in action.

The CRS report also stated that 1,045 coalition soldiers and more than 11,864 Afghan civilians have been killed. However, these numbers seem not to matter to us. In fact, no one counted how many civilians were killed until 2007, when the United Nations started tracking this statistic—six years into the war.

It is a travesty that we can go to sleep at night when our soldiers and innocent Afghan civilians are dying. How many times do UIndy students die in explosions because they leave the safety of campus? For the Afghan people, this is an everyday risk.

But how could my generation have known it would be like this? We were still pretty young when the war began. I remember being excited when it started, because I only knew about war from movies and video games.

We did not even pay attention as George W. Bush and Al Gore argued about what to do with the Clinton era budget surplus. But we know what happened.

“We threw it [the surplus] down a hole in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we’re talking about cutting back on government programs—Social Security,  Medicare, Medicaid?” Martin said. “Well, all that money went into war.”

The surplus went into a war that we cannot win, at least not in the way we would like. There is no question that we cannot keep this up, and most Americans agree. However, 61 percent of Americans affiliated with the Tea Party believe that President Barack Obama is pulling out the troops too quickly, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center. This makes sense because Tea Party members favor deregulation and military spending, but the war will end.

At the May 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, Obama announced that the United States would begin pulling out troops by mid-2013 and be completely out by the end of 2014. This war, however, reflects poorly on not just the apathy of Americans, but the country as a whole.

“Politicians will often vote for military spending, because there are big corporations that support military spending… So they lobby for lots and lots of military spending,” Martin said. “Nobody is lobbying to take care of our veterans. There’s no corporation out there who’s got a vested interest in keeping money flowing to the veterans administrations and veterans hospitals.”

Many veterans are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with physical and psychological wounds like post-traumatic stress disorder. We need to spend less on weapons and more on the well-being of the people who have carried them for the past 11 years.

Only when we stop this senseless and costly war will we be able to start fixing the problems right here. At this point, we should do as suggested during Vietnam: declare victory and go home.