America’s forgotten war - By Gary Younge - Wednesday, February 02, 2011

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MOST of the stories told about Benjamin Moore, 23, at his funeral started in a bar and ended in a laugh. Invited to testify about his life from the pews, friend, relative, colleague and neighbour alike described a boisterous, gregarious, energetic young man they`d known in the small New Jersey town of Bordentown since he was born. “I`ll love him `til I go,” his granny said. “If I could go today and bring him back, I would.”

Grown men choked on their memories, under the gaze of swollen, reddened eyes, as they remembered a “snot-nosed kid” and a fidget who`d become a volunteer firefighter before enlisting in the military. Shortly before Benjamin left for Afghanistan, he sent a message to his cousin that began: “I`m about to go into another country where they hate me for everything I stand for.” Now he was back in a flag-draped box, killed by roadside bomb with two other soldiers in Ghazni province.

The church was packed to capacity and at least a couple of hundred waited outside. The procession to the cemetery began with firetruck horns and was lined with well-wishers. He went under the ground with several military medals and the posthumous titles of chief of Hope Hose fire company and the “honorary mayor” of Bordentown.

There is a reverence for the military in the US on a scale rarely seen anywhere else in the West that transcends political affiliation and pervades popular culture. On aeroplanes the flight attendant will announce if there are soldiers on board to great applause. When I attended a recording of The Daily Show, John Stewart made a special point before the show of thanking the servicemen in the audience.

But while the admiration for those who serve and die may be deep and widespread, interest in what they are doing and why they are doing it is shallow and fleeting. During November`s midterm elections it barely came up. In September just 3 per cent thought Afghanistan was one of the most important problems facing the country. When Pew surveyed public interest in the war over an 18-week period last year, fewer than one in 10 said it was the top news story they were following in any given week, including the week Stanley McChrystal — the four-star general commanding troops in Afghanistan, was fired. The country, it seems has moved on. The trouble is the troops are still there.

“The burden for this war is being carried by such a small slither of society,” explains Professor Christopher Gelpi, who specialises in public opinion and foreign policy at Duke University. “Unless you know someone in this war, live near an army base or know of someone who has died, then it is possible for the public to ignore it. People are very disconnected from it.”

And when they do pay attention, they do not like what they see. Polls in December reveal that 63 per cent oppose the war, 56 per cent think it is going badly (with 21 per cent believing it is going very badly), and 60 per cent believing it was not worth fighting. Indeed opposition to the war is now on a par with Iraq. This statistical data chimes with Gelpi`s qualitative findings about people`s attitudes towards the war. In a study he conducted in last spring, he found that people know very little about the war but “view it through the filter of Iraq”. “Those who have made up their minds about Iraq,” he concludes in the paper, The Two-Front Homefront, “appear to extrapolate these views to Afghanistan and are reluctant to attend to new information on the conflict.”

But while that popular elision is understandable — no sooner had the war in Afghanistan been launched than the war in Iraq was being touted — it is problematic. Afghanistan is not Iraq. Indeed, in many ways, the lessons from Afghanistan are more profound, ingrained and urgent. —The Guardian, London

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