During spring break while speaking to a friend of mine, I asked her about her brother who I had also been friends with in high school. I asked how he was, and she told me he had been stationed in Kuwait and had been there for four months.
Recently, another friend of mine contacted me; I hadn’t spoken to him since last summer. I asked him how he had been, and he said he had been overseas for the past six months. Both of them were friends of mine, yet I had no knowledge of them being outside of the country, let alone involved in the war.
This Tuesday, a video was posted online of soldiers opening fire on what they thought were enemy targets, though it was later found they were innocent civilians and journalists. The video is strikingly entitled “Collateral Murder,” and shows a helicopter camera view of two different American air assaults on Iraqi victims. Many online users expressed outrage and contempt for both the military and the government for the assault and the accused cover up of it. The shock many expressed was sudden; it seemed that after being reminded of the regular events of the conflict, we had forgotten how tragic our time there has been.
There is something beyond this that seems as if we have completely lost sense of what being at war means for us as a country. And perhaps it is somewhat understandable. We have been involved in the Middle East for almost the entire the decade. How could we maintain attention, let alone empathy, for a war that has been going on for a large majority of our own lives? We can’t expect ourselves to weep at every tragedy. We have to be able to live our own lives, even while soldiers overseas are fighting.
Regardless, the level of unawareness people maintain about the war speaks volumes about us. And as illustrated above, I am a part of that group. I had no idea two people I considered friends had been serving overseas, and it makes me feel awful I was so previously unconcerned.
Our headlines are filled with Tiger Woods press conferences and iPad releases, and those stories are popularized because of people’s interest in them. This isn’t to say the war should dominate our lives, but at the very least, our priorities are misplaced. Even if it is a combination of many factors, we do have to answer to the portion that is ours.
There is a strong sentiment that our generation is one that doesn’t know sacrifice, that our lives are unaffected by the world, that we are entirely apathetic to it. Perhaps that stems from us feeling unable to actually change the reality we live in. After all, what possible sacrifice could we make? What change can we effect? How can we take individual responsibility for things that involve so many hundreds of thousands of others?
The most important thing we can do is to stay informed. Above all else, we have to consider the trials and tragedies faced by the victims of the war, both civilian and military. The first step is paying attention to the things that matter. Seeing reports of bombings and shootings in our newspapers may feel routine, but that tendency is one we have to fight against. Every single one of those stories carries with it a life that was lost, and a tragedy that will go unrighted. We can’t allow ourselves to feel so distanced from the consequences of our war. We have a battle to fight: one of apathy and willed ignorance. That is the smallest sacrifice we can and need to give, not only for our soldiers and for the innocent victims, but for us as well.