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Monday, March 05, 2007

The constant threat of forgetting...

Rev. Terry Rebert recently placed 3100 crosses on church property to remind locals of the sacrifices that American soldiers have made in Iraq.
"This is not a protest against war. It's a protest against sin, which causes war," Rebert said Wednesday. "It's to communicate that we should never forget the sacrifice of our soldiers. We forget about the sacrifice of giving their life for our freedom."
It is commonly repeated in the press that we should not forget the poor soldiers lost in the war, or the fact that they died for our freedom. Protesters and war supporters alike seem to have generally bought into this notion that Americans are constantly on the verge of collective amnesia when it comes to America's war dead. At a recent exhibition at Arizona State University, titled "Eyes Wide Open", organizers displayed 90 pairs of boots to symbolize Arizona's fallen troops. Event coordinator Cheri Lippmann said,“Sometimes, people don’t see that peoples’ lives ending is part of war,” Lippmann said. “A lot of times, they don’t see the flag-draped coffins.” People forget the cost to American soldiers, Lippmann continued, and get distracted by politics. This in a state in which the governor renamed one of Phoenix's freeways and a mountain in honor of Lori Piestewa after she was killed in the Iraq invasion. Pat Tillman's beatification followed not much later, memorialized with a massive statue in the "Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor" in front of our new publicly-funded stadium.

Despite the near religious certainty that reporters and politicians alike ascribe to this constant threat of forgetting that afflicts us, this mantra seems to have been contradicted by a recent poll. According to an AP article:
One person can tell you precisely how many Americans have been killed in Iraq. Another pays close attention to the names and hometowns of those who die each week. A third mourns for the families of fallen U.S. troops, but also figures it was their choice to enlist.

Americans are keenly aware of how many U.S. forces have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll. But they woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed.
In fact, when polled, Americans demonstrated a fairly good awareness of the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq, offering up an average figure of 3000 when asked to estimate the number of US war dead in Iraq, very close to the 3100 at which it stood at the time of the poll. However, when it came to the number of Iraqi war dead, which even the US government concedes runs at least to the many tens of thousands (and perhaps as high as 900,000 in a study that ran in the Lancet last year), Americans showed almost total ignorance of the cost in blood borne by Iraqis. The average Iraqi death toll that Americans settled on in the poll was 9,890.

Clearly there is no lack of awareness of the cost to American troops. And how could there be, after all? Local news channels beatify local war dead with clockwork regularity, while support the troops magnetic ribbons abound on both foreign and domestic cars, and politicians continuously remind us of the supposedly noble cause for which they so selflessly die. But the US is a country that worships war, and the soldiers are this religion's little, gun-toting Jesuses. Their splayed out corpses must be kneeled before with, well, religious regularity and a heavy dose of piety lest we lose faith and stray from the course set before us by the popes and priests in the military industrial conplex.

Ironically, the mantra of the ever-present threat of forgetting sacrifice itself plays a significant role in making us aware of America's war dead, at the same time it encircles the debate on the war, cleverly setting the limits of discussion so that criticism remains safely within patriotic boundaries. As the good reverend cautions us: do not question the troops, for their sacrifices make our debate possible, despite the obvious evidence that the primary threat to those rights to free debate come from war supporters, not Iraqi insurgents.

Reminding us continuously of our supposedly dangerously feeble memories also provides a moral high ground for those who seek to attack war critics and anti-war militants and activists, and it obscures the actual work of those very soldiers serving and dying in Iraq, namely killing Iraqis. Their "noble sacrifice" thus transforms into defending our rights, not destroying Iraq. Recognizing the actual cost of the Iraq war, in terms that reflect the disproportionate cost to Iraq, would call into question the role of American soldiers, and that could raise doubt about the alleged sacrifices made by American soldiers. Remembering the sacrifice of US troops keeps our focus at home, safely domestic and depoliticized. A step towards breaking this grip on debates about the war must include questioning the role of the troops and their individual culpability in the mass murder of Iraqis. "Support the troops" must be turned into a question and aimed back at these moralizers: "Support the troops as they do what, exactly?"



Anonymous kyle said...

I feel the same way. The "Eye's Wide Open" exhibit is coming up here to Flagstaff soon. I probably won't check it out...though the aim of exhibits like this is they're so big, you can't help but notice them.

The number of US death's in Iraq is totally misleading, especially when you consider the US contractor deaths, which aren't included in the US soldier count.

Fri Mar 09, 11:02:00 AM 2007  

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