I was a bit surprised last week to pick up Newsweek (with the cover story about the Britney, Paris and a host of other drunken celebrities who seemingly forget to put on underwear) to see that the most popular story the week before had been the sordid tale of a cheerleading/National Guard recruiting/underage sex-and-booze scandal in Ware Shoals, S.C.
My surprise resulted from the fact that the same issue of Newsweek that covered the scandal also included “The True Cost of War,” a moving tribute to 12 U.S. soldiers who died when their Black Hawk was shot down in Iraq earlier in January. I’m left wondering why more people aren’t concerned about what’s happening in Iraq.
Granted, I understand how Newsweek compiles the “Popularity Index,” which measures the most-viewed articles on newsweek.com. Newsweek is owned by The Post Company, which in turn has an agreement with Microsoft to provide news for sites like MSN.com, MSNBC.com and hotmail.com. While the Popularity Index may do a better job at gauging the thoughts of bored-at-work Net surfers or middle school students who are playing around during their computer labs, it is still somewhat indicative of what people are looking for when they click on a news story.
So why then is “The True Cost of War” at #4 on the index, behind the cheerleading scandal, a story about a Puerto Rican minister who claims he is Jesus Christ and the news that George Bush’s approval rating has again hit an all-time low? The answer is, I guess, that Americans are simply fatigued by the war, just as we were fatigued after watching non-stop replays of the World Trade Center coming down. And watching New Orleans wash away. And hearing about rape and genocide in Darfur. And the tsunami. And AIDS. And poverty. Need I go on?
So what to do about this fatigue? Logic would say that the more we see gruesome, distressing and downright sad scenes from the mess in Iraq, more and more people would become galvanized against the war. After all, according to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate, victory in Iraq is no longer possible. And maybe somewhere, people are becoming galvanized. But from where I sit in Washington, D.C., it’s just more of the same. Rhetoric and partisan bickering; the Republicans block debate on Iraq in the Senate, while the Democrats seem content to limit their action to a contest of dueling soundbites and press releases.
I don’t know. I literally cry at night when I watch the evening news and see what’s happening over there. How could any human being not cry at that? Two nights ago, NBC’s Richard Engle was embedded with a group of soldiers who nearly died in a roadside bomb attack while the camera was rolling. The same group of American men and women found themselves in a similar situation just a week or two before, only that time, one of the soldiers lost both of his legs. The sergeant in the front seat of the armoured vehicle just shrugged and said something to the effect of, We’re not getting anything done here, maybe we should just let them fight their civil war and then come back and help them once they’re done.
And back home, as that sergeant’s family waits for his return, we (myself included) are all riveted to our television sets, watching the circus of Anna Nicole Smith’s death play out, waiting for someone with a shred of credibility to tell us that little green men in a flying saucer impregnated her, and that they deserve the hundreds of millions of dollars that are now attached to an innocent 5-month-old.