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.
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A survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in March found that only 28 percent of adults know the approximate number of military members killed in Iraq. Just seven months earlier, some 54 percent knew how many had died up to that point in Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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At the same time, the News Coverage Index published by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) found that coverage of Iraq hovered between 20 and 25 percent of news coverage in the first three months of 2007. But during the first three months of 2008, the Iraq war constituted only 3 to 5 percent of all news coverage.
Afghanistan made it into PEJ's weekly survey of the Top 10 news stories only three times this year, never topping 3 percent of the news hole.
Mr. Fick, author of a bestselling book about his experiences as a Marine Corps lieutenant in Afghanistan and Iraq, says the scant attention paid to the wars lately has muddled them in many people's minds.
"When I tell people now that I'm going over [to Afghanistan] … I think they confuse it with Iraq, frankly," said Fick during the conference call.
But folks like Mary Anne Tomson need no reminding that there are two wars raging. Her son Scott was sent to Afghanistan as part of the Virginia National Guard. Then he served in Kuwait. Now he has volunteered to go to Iraq.
"As a nation we should know what the costs are and not just once or twice [a year] on Veterans Day and Memorial Day," she said in the midst of a lively discussion about Afghanistan and Iraq among the military and civilian friends gathered in her northern Virginia home. "I get the casualty notifications every day. Every single one I read, [I think] it's not just a family. It's an extended family and community that now has a gaping hole."
Her other son, Brian Tomson, says that for the young adults who are his peers and co-workers at the biotechnology firm where he works, the wars – particularly in Afghanistan – are a distant thought.
"Afghanistan has definitely gotten lost behind Iraq," he says. "Most of the people I talk to are just like 'get out of [there]. That's it.' "
Sitting near Brian by the Tomson fireplace is Katie Purcell, a family friend and nutritionist just a few years out of college. Among her friends and co-workers, war is "never brought up," she says. She surfs a website daily for news from Afghanistan but says it's much easier to find detailed reports on a scandal involving teen actress Miley Cyrus.
They are the kinds of people the IAVA hopes can act as conduits of information and reminders in their communities about the cost of the wars.
"We just want to have a deeper dialogue about one of the most important issues of our time," says Rieckhoff of IAVA.