War fatigues

Maybe you’ve heard about the boots.

The American Friends Service Committee is traveling around the country with 909 pairs of empty combat boots. Some dusty and dirty from use by soldiers, the boots get stacked side by side in parks as an educational display about the war. Each pair of boots is tagged with the name, age and home state of a young man or woman who died while in military service in Iraq.

Many who have seen the boots in person on the East Coast describe feeling overwhelmed and sickened at the unambiguous reminder of the very specific human beings who have lost their lives in a war that—as we all know by now—was waged under false pretenses.

The boots make us want to look away. But we dare not.

As we enter the fall of 2004, it is understandable that many of us have grown tired of being reminded of the constant death and violence going on in Iraq. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote recently that many Iraq war stories have moved “to the inside pages of newspapers and largely off TV screens,” particularly since the June 28 U.S. transfer of occupational power to the Iraqi interim government. Lots of Americans actually have the impression that things have improved in Iraq since the changeover, because of the lessening coverage in the media, he said. Things have not improved, however. July’s casualties (54) were actually up from June’s (42).

It was just over a year ago—in the spring and summer of 2003—that we watched with incredulity as anti-America insurgency forces began to make their forceful case in Iraq. Roadside bombings became commonplace. Rocket-propelled-grenade attacks and rifle ambushes of convoys became regular occurrences. Soon, there were murders, beheadings, kidnappings, assassinations and suicide bombings. Unimaginable violence. And it didn’t let up.

Events that would have led the news six months ago have almost lost their ability to shock us. New coverage of the war subsequently has declined, and news teams in Iraq reportedly have been thinning out because of a diminished desire for coverage on the part of the media and the citizens of the United States. When something becomes a regular event, it ceases to be news, right?

Well that’s not right. We need to shake off the fatigue and insist the media keep reporting the horrible truth about what is happening in this wrongful war. Perhaps then we’ll be forced to do something about it—like change presidents, orchestrate a genuine international effort to stabilize Iraq, and proceed with an organized withdrawal of our troops. Either we do these things, or we prepare to add new football fields full of empty boots to the current display.