With so many pressing issues at the forefront of American politics it is easy to forget some of the less immediate things, some of which should never be forgotten. While citizens grapple over health care reform and economic recovery, young men and women are on the other side of the world fighting to protect our right to do so.
My guess is the average American couldn't pick out Afghanistan on the map. I admit it would take a little poking around to do so myself. Yet nearly a decade ago, the Afghani Taliban regime, through their protection and support of Al Qaeda, declared war on the United States. We responded, and in cooperation with NATO dismantled the Taliban in short order. But, as the War on Terror has revealed over and over again, like shattered glass, a broken terrorist organization only scatters, their resolve ever sharpened. Thus the war rages on.
This year alone, 261 soldiers have died. Last year brought the deaths of 293, up from 232 in 2007. More soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2008 than in the first four years of the conflict combined.
If the average American can't pick out Afghanistan on the map, they likely also can't explain our current objectives there, or name the operation itself (Operation Enduring Freedom). How can it be that an ongoing war, started by the most horrific attack on US soil in the nation's history, be of such little consequence to the American people?
This lack of attention is nothing new. The prelude to the American invasion of Iraq quickly overshadowed our efforts in Afghanistan, which were reaping immediate and decisive results. As the case for war in Iraq became more contentious, further dividing an already fractured American people, the military efforts in Afghanistan continued unnoticed. And American soldiers continued to fall.
But Iraq is a whole other story.
On September 11, 2001, for the first time in more than half a century, since stories of Nazi atrocities found their way into our homes, since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor without mercy or cause, the American people were forced to look hard at themselves and their country and take stock of their blessings. To remember where they come from. For many young men and women the call of duty rang out loud and clear. And so they answered.
As much as these brave individuals deserve our utmost respect and gratitude, to an even greater extent they deserve our attention.
The most popular Post-9/11 slogan was, simply, Never Forget. But how much have we already forgotten? How much do we fail every day to ever know at all?