The reporting on the U.S. army casualties in the recent downing of a Chinook helicopter by Taliban insurgents is, to put it kindly, inappropriate. Thirty soldiers were killed in the largest single incident of U.S. casualties to date. It is a tragedy, but it deserves a certain reflection not included in the “hoo-rah” chest-beating media attention it is getting. This CNN segment, wherein a widow of one of the Navy SEALs slain in the attack is interviewed, is a perfect example.
It is important to understand this widow’s heartbreak. The soldier’s children will grow up without him. His life was important to many people, and his loss will be difficult. But just as important is the obligation to question the circumstances of these casualties and the unnecessary war this man was asked to take part in. The widow’s final words in the segment are that her husband was “a warrior for Christ” and “a warrior for our country.” Placing these casualties in that context is not only inaccurate, but it does nothing to contribute to an understanding of what’s going on in Afghanistan. It merely clouds the reality of the war with very human emotions about national greatness.
Perhaps more importantly, I know of no CNN segment in the last decade of this war which took the time to interview the family members of civilians slaughtered in Afghanistan. As The Independent recently reported:
Human rights groups warned that civilians are paying an increasingly high price for “reckless” coalition attacks, particularly aerial ones. The Ministry of Defence confirmed last week that five Afghan children were injured in an air strike carried out by a British Apache attack helicopter.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) has found that the rate of civilian casualties has reached a record high, with 1,462 killed in January to June this year. But, while the number of civilian victims of “pro-government action” fell, those who died as a result of coalition air attacks were 14 per cent higher than in the same period in 2010 – despite the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) issuing “tactical directives” designed to minimise risk to civilians.
The helicopter incident left dead 30 individuals engaged in combat. But various incidents, particularly U.S. airstrikes, killed unknown numbers of civilians – that is, men, women and children not engaged in combat. The American media had over 1,400 opportunities in the past six months to explore the human costs to the innocent people of Afghanistan and missed every single one of them. That’s thousands upon thousands of anecdotes of immense human suffering gone totally unreported, while this rare event that resulted in 30 combat casualties meets every newspaper headline and television set in the country. Just as an example, one of these fine opportunities was in 2008 when an Afghan wedding was bombed in Nangarhar province, massacring civilians, mostly women and children. But this was a nasty little truth regarded as unwelcome in the halls of power. Therefore, treat it as if Afghans won’t feel anything similar to what the families of the 30 SEALs killed this weekend are now feeling.
This headline from Stars and Stripes reads “U.S. troops in Afghanistan sad, angry over deaths in downing of chopper.” How often has the sadness and anger of Afghans been a headlining story? Do they not feel anger towards U.S. troops? Is that anger not at least as justified as the anger felt by the U.S. troops right now?
This sort of bias exemplifies two flawed assumptions on the part of the media as well as the conscience of ordinary Americans. First, Americans are more important, and more human, than Afghans. And two, any mission U.S. soldiers engage in is inherently good, brave, for the good of the country. On both counts, of course, nothing could be farther from the truth.
A more appropriate media response to this incident would be to question how important really were these casualties to the safety and security of Americans? How just is our war and occupation in Afghanistan?
Update: I should have linked Medea Benjamin’s piece today on how needless and counterproductive this war – and these deaths – are.