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Will the war be forgotten after Memorial Day?

Many veterans worry that Americans have become more interested in other issues – the economy, the presidential campaign, and pop culture – than the long wars in which thousands of US troops have fought and sacrificed.

By Jill CarrollStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 27, 2008

James Vance from Boy Scouts Troop 96 in Vestavia Hills, Ala., played taps to close a Memorial Day ceremony honoring Alabamans killed in the 9/11 attacks and Afghanistan and Iraq. While Americans are honoring troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, many veterans worry that Americans have become more interested in other issues.

Frank Couch/The Birmingham News/AP

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FAIRFAX, Va.

Saluting the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – and honoring veterans of those wars – is a key part of Memorial Day activities today. That's to be expected.

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But come Tuesday, and during the rest of the year, will the fighting and the sacrifice fade into the background as Americans' main concerns return to high gasoline prices and presidential election politics?

That's been the pattern in recent months, and there's concern among the troops that it'll happen again.

"Lots of our vets have started to call it 'Forgetistan,' " says Paul Rieckhoff, head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) who served as an infantry platoon leader in Iraq.

Over the past year there's been a steep drop-off in news coverage of the conflicts. That was in tandem with a decline in public awareness of casualty rates and concern about the wars, eclipsed instead by the public's worries about the economy. Such signs that the wars are on the mind of fewer and fewer Americans have prompted efforts by the IAVA and others to bring them into focus for the rest of the country.

Mr. Rieckhoff's comments were part of a conference call piped into more than 230 simultaneous "house parties" the group organized across the country this month to view the film "Charlie Wilson's War." The film details US involvement in the Soviet-Afghanistan war in the 1980s. The IAVA hoped that organizing the viewings and a conference call afterwards – with former Texas congressman Wilson, Reickhoff, and former Marine officer and author Nathaniel Fick taking questions from house party participants – would spark discussion about America's current war in Afghanistan.

In a largely symbolic effort in the same vein, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut proposed a war income tax last year to raise more funds for the military and veterans and remind the public of the wars and their costs. Rep. Jim McGovern (D) of Massachusetts also proposed a new tax last year that, if adopted, would have taxed anyone not in the military or a veteran to help pay for the war in Iraq.

"Our military is fully engaged in this war, but most of the rest of America is not," Senator Lieberman said from the Senate floor when he proposed the measure. "Five years after September 11, very little has been asked of the American people."

Lack of awareness of the wars leads to a public that can be easily misled, says Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar studying defense issues and military history at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., a conservative think tank.

"To the extent they have been talked to about the war, they are being talked to about the wrong things," says Mr. Kagan, who supports the war but faults the Bush administration for emphasizing more shopping trips over sacrifice to the public and the news media for not providing enough context to its war reports.

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