Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Remembering Our Troops, No Matter The War

A child hugs a member of the military. Monday is Memorial Day, a day meant to honor and thank the U.S. troops everywhere.

A child hugs a member of the military. Monday is Memorial Day, a day meant to honor and thank the U.S. troops everywhere. iStockphoto hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto

This "Can I Just Tell You" segment was written and voiced by NPR's Allison Keyes.

On this day of remembrance in so many American cemeteries, I got to wondering how this country feels about the two wars our nation is fighting right now — and about the toll those wars are taking on the troops in combat.

A recent Gallup poll shows the mix of opinions about the war in Afghanistan has hardly changed in five years: 51 percent of Americans say things are going well in Afghanistan and 47 percent think things are going badly.

This isn't the late 1960s, and anti-war protests aren't as common or as vitriolic. So, have these wars lost our attention?

Marine Capt. Vernice Armour said she thinks the public has gotten desensitized looking at the news, and she takes exception when she hears people saying, "Well, I support the troops, but not the war."

"Ask somebody what's going on in Iraq right now," Capt. Armour said. "What's going on — that's not really at the forefront of our minds — you don't really see yellow ribbons all over the place anymore."

Capt. Armour believes it is difficult keeping the public behind what she calls the "full push" if people aren't sure what the end goal looks like.

Brian Palmer — the journalist who was embedded with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment — said he sees a disconnect between what is being reported and what's actually going on with the men and women in combat. He went to Iraq three times with the same unit, and says people here don't understand that neither the Marines he documented, nor the Iraqi civilians, can leave the combat zone.

"We're not even talking about Iraq now," Mr. Palmer said. "We weren't talking about it then — unless it was in these sort of very abstract terms. We're sitting and talking over lattes about what we should do in Iraq or what blah blah blah. But there was no acknowledgment of the messy, sloppy, awful stuff that was going on on the street every day."

Can I just tell you? What's going on gives one pause when one looks at the figures. The Department of Defense reports more than 6,000 U.S. military fatalities so far from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The website Iraqbodycount.org says as many as 110,000 civilians have been killed in that war and the sectarian battles that ensued. And the United Nations reports 8,800 civilians have died in Afghanistan over the past four years.

Then, there are the wounded U.S. military service members, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

More than 43,000 troops have been wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more active duty soldiers and veterans have died from suicide than from combat wounds in the past two years.

Just last month, Marine veteran Jake Wood joined us to talk about the suicide of fellow Marine Clay Hunt. Wood said he thinks it's convenient for the country to know — and perhaps not care — about what he calls a growing suicide epidemic.

"The issue needs to be front and center at the highest levels of our government," Wood said. "And there needs to be a very open and candid conversation at the highest levels of elected officials as to what this problem is — what caused it — and the best way to move forward on how to fix it."

So we wanted you to remember to thank a serviceman or servicewoman for their service — and their strength. On this day, remember those who have been lost fighting for their country.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues