Last Wednesday, on the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War which was supposed to be so short that Donald Rumsfeld got mad at people who dared suggest they have a post-invasion plan, the number of dead U.S. servicepeople in Iraq stood at 3,990. The next day, it was at 3,991. It wasn't going to take long to get to 4,000 and everyone knew it. Probably some news organizations had special plans for how they'd commemorate that "grim milestone," maybe different than they had commemorated the 5th year anniversary (which, I couldn't help but notice, was quite different from how the 5th anniversary of September 11th had been commemorated — though I'm sure there are at least 4,000 families who can imagine what have been if the Iraq war had never happened).
Writer Rob Lenihan wondered who G.I. 4000 might be:
"What is he or she like--bookish or a rabid sports fan? Shy and quiet or outgoing and boisterous?...Was this soldier a high school hero or one of the geeks who sat in the back row and prayed not to to be seen? Is this individual a parent whose children will never see their mother or father again?...Did he or she believe in "the mission," as war supporters call this fiasco, or did this soldier get pulled into this quagmire due to a National Guard commitment?"
The media, it has been amply shown, has dropped off in its coverage of the war — studies prove it, war correspondents lament it — and we've all noticed it (here's some year-old anecdotal evidence: the blip that was last year's Newsweek special issue, "Voices Of The Fallen," which uber-boss Don Graham said he thought was "the best issue of Newsweek in the 75 years of the magazine" but which got little traction online. The New York Times did the same thing yesterday, publishing excerpts of letters and journals from fallen soldiers, and one year later it was just as sad. So far it's got 83 pickups according to Technorati, the most highly-trafficked of which are Wonkette, HuffPo and Wired's "Danger Room" blog. It is not on the NYT "Most Emailed" list).
In the past week there's been a spike in attention, especially due to the anniversary coinciding with the final, inexorable march to 4,000 — but for one very specified branch of the media these are the headlines that matter every day and with every number: The military media. On VetVoice, the blog arm of VoteVets.org, which have posts lamenting but looking beyond the 4,000th soldier, since its contributors and readers have been mourning each one all along. Here's a sampling of posts: "25 Killed in Two Weeks; More Significant Number than 4,000" noting that the past two weeks have been the most violent since September 2007 and belied reports of ebbing violence; an incredulous response to Dick Cheney's claim that "The president carries the biggest burden" in the war ("Jaw drops; gum falls in lap"); and, on a happier note, a post from a soldier who will soon be going home, to "a life raising an infant, a life I have known for only a short 25 days." His daughter is 14 months old.
(Also on VetVoice: The trailer for the new Iraq war-themed movie, "Stop Loss" which asks its readers: "Are you all going to see it? You think you can sit through it?", sidebar resources for PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, and a great poll: "John McCain: Stable or Unstable? Vote!")
This is just one website — there are many, like IraqSlogger and Michael Yon Back To Iraq and BlackFive and McClatchy's "Inside Iraq" blog ; and, to be fair, there are also important special projects and resources from the mainstream media that stand out, like Reuters' amazing "Iraq: Bearing Witness" special feature and WaPo's four-part in-depth feature on IED's and Frontline's current documentary, "Bush's War" and Richard Engel's award-winning "War Zone Diary," and I know that this is not an exhaustive list. There is a lot of material and you can get lost in it, and maybe that's one of the reasons the coverage has dropped off, because of the sheer volume of stories to tell (4,000 dead does not include 30,000 injured, many grievously). But that's just the stuff that's happened until now — the war is still on, and there is more to come. When Rob Lenihan wrote his post, G.I. 4,000 was still alive.
I'm going to end with the words of the blogger at Inside My Broken Skull, an anonymous 32-year-old vet who says it better than I ever could:
I'm starting to feel a little burnt out by the fact that it seems that no one really cares about what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, except for a select few and the men and women fighting over there and their families.
Seems to me that it is becoming a more and more forgotten issue and will be that way until something horrible happens, which I pray never happens.
I don't know if the American public will ever wake up and demand action or justice, seems like everyone is too pre-occupied with Britney Spears, Starbucks closing for 2 hours and American Idol then the plight of several thousand men and women of the Armed Forces.
Sometimes it makes me want to forget about trying to make a change, but I won't stop. I'll just keep on keeping on and hope that things will change. Because if they don't, we as vets are screwed.
The War Endures, But Where's The Media? [NYT]
Jon Soltz: 4000 Killed in Iraq: A Harsh Reminder [HuffPost]
A Mosaic: 4,000 Americans Dead [HuffPost]
US Papers Tuesday: 4,000 Deaths And Counting [IraqSlogger]
Related from a year ago:
Newsweek's "Voices Of The Fallen" A Blip In The Blogosphere [ETP]
Related In WaPo Front Pages That Juxtapose Bush Saying The War Will "Merit" 4,000 Deaths With Bush Going On An Easter Egg Hunt With A Giant Bunny: