How we choose apathy over awareness about international conflict
By Kyle Allen
When the average American young adult walks down the street, they have a peculiar nature about them. From their ears, long white wires dangle into a sweatshirt pocket or backpack, their face buried in a text message.
The daily concerns and struggles America’s youth faces: what television shows to watch or what musicians to pay attention to. This type of lifestyle is undoubtedly a positive element of society, but it comes at a price that few are conscious of on a daily basis: Americans appear increasingly apathetic toward international wars.
News anchors cover America’s conflict in the Middle East from the comfort of a desk and chair instead of out in the field showing civilian casualties. As a result, the information seems to fall on deaf ears. Many young adults are more concerned with eating their Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast and driving to the daily grind of jobs the industrialized world has spawned. The poorly named “War on Terror” has been going on for nearly a decade, and Americans are losing interest in the conflict. If U.S. citizens are truly detached from war, what has caused this separation, and who is to blame?
Many U.S. citizens lack a solid idea of where conflicts take place and the reasons for them.
“Why don’t people think more about foreign policy? Most don’t know where these places are in the first place,” said Angela Keaton, the developmental director for AntiWar.com. “Generally, unless you know someone who’s in the military, you never have to think about the places we’re at war with. [The troops] might as well be on Mars.”
They are also unaware of the number of Iraqi civilian casualties, which a CRS Report for Congress estimated to surpass 100,000.
Furthermore, Americans rarely hear about soldiers who must live with serious disabilities as a result of war. “I’d like to see [the media] focus a lot more on making Americans aware of how many come back just missing an arm or missing a leg,” said Kyle Gliek, a 32-year-old former staff sergeant for the U.S. Army who served in Iraq. “I don’t think they focus enough attention on that—that changes your whole life.”
However, if information highlighting America’s military force abroad is (with some effort) available, shouldn’t more Americans be knowledgeable of or angry with the country’s actions? In a recent poll in The Washington Post, 92 percent answered that they believe Americans are disconnected from the country’s wars. Americans are aware that they are unaware, but they have no incentive to change. In a way, Americans are afforded the luxury of being shielded from violent realities.
“Here’s the bargain that the U.S. government makes with the people of this country,” Ithaca College Politics Professor Naeem Inayatullah explained. “You don’t have to pay any attention to international politics, and what you get to do instead is try and live out your lives as you see fit.”
Just as a luxurious lifestyle distracts Americans from war, so too does economic hardship. The current recession keeps Americans focused on working, paying bills, raising a family and enjoying entertainment. As long as people are struggling in their “pursuit of happiness,” it is difficult to be concerned about international affairs. Americans’ detachment is so severe that national debate is focused on whether or not to cut Social Security benefits without much mention of cutting military spending as an alternative. They cannot see the connection between the cost of war and their own monetary loss.
“If everyone could be more thoughtful about this, they’d ask the question about who is paying for the occupation in the Middle East? The American taxpayer,” Keaton said. “Every day they’re paying for the warfare state.”
It is hard to be connected to war. We are lucky to live in a country where bombs seldom fall. As a result, we have not experienced how devastating bombing can be and therefore cannot understand the consequences of bombs being dropped in other places in our country’s name. Most Americans cite 9/11 as an exposure to such travesty, but there is no way that attack compares to a predator drone aircraft dropping its payload while the pilot is comfortable in a control room thousands of miles away. In his article “America Detached from War,” writer Tom Engelhardt said that drone warfare “certainly fits the skills of a generation raised on the computer, Facebook and video games. That our valorous warriors, their day of battle done, can increasingly leave war behind and head home to the barbeque.” Drone warfare is detachment: A button is pressed here. People die there.
Though Americans are detached from war, it’s not entirely their fault. The American government allows for a lavish way of life that enables its citizens to focus attention away from foreign policy and international violence. The government also frames its debate around domestic issues, which encourages Americans to stay focused on their daily concerns. Even the way the United States conducts battle serves to distance Americans from the brutalities of war. Although our country’s system inspires apathy, this negligence does not have to be permanent.
“Apathy is not a kind of stupidity or ignorance or lack of effort,” Inayatullah said. “Apathy is actually a committed desire to make sure that you don’t know certain things.”
Americans have the potential to be conscious of their armed forces, but they must be willing as well. So, remove those earbuds, look up from the cell phone screen and inform yourself.
Kyle Allen is a sophomore writing major who thinks everyone should stop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.