Wednesday, April 7, 2010

US Troops Celebrating Easter

Ever since I learned we were going to have to contribute to the Afghanistan Blog, I knew I wanted to cover American soldiers.  I didn’t want to cover them in a traditional way.  I wanted to find coverage that portrayed them as American citizens in Afghanistan.  At first I thought this was going to be difficult, but since Easter was Sunday, finding a humane piece about our soldiers was easier to find.

My neighbor’s fiancĂ© has already served twice in Afghanistan.  The reason he is not going back for a third time is because of medical leave.  Whenever I am home, I find myself talking to him.  I asked him what the worst part of being stationed in Afghanistan was.  He always says that he hates spending holidays in Afghanistan.  He hates the holidays not because he misses home, but because he feels like an outsider.  He says it’s a surreal feeling to celebrate a Catholic holiday in a Muslim country. 

Since we’ve started this class, I’ve started reading CNN’s Afghanistan blog, called Afghanistan Crossroads.  The purpose of the blog is to bring a diversity of voices to the reporting of the occurrences in Afghanistan.  It has made me more informed about what has been occurring in Afghanistan.  When I was looking for an article, I immediately went to this blog.  I clicked on the tag for troops and came across this video of US troops celebrating Easter:

I think most citizens, whether American or Afghan, forget that the soldiers are real people with morals, values, and faith.  Yes, it’s strange to see people attending church in uniform rather than in suits and dresses, but some balance is reached because they do not enter the church with their weapons. 

I found it sad when the woman soldier said that most people forget it’s Easter.  This means that they must lose track of the days while stationed in Afghanistan.  In the United States, the calendar revolves around holidays, which gives people something to look forward to.  When stationed in Afghanistan, the troops often forget when a holiday is approaching because they do not have reminders.

It was ironic when the sergeant was talking about being Christian on Islam soil.  It seems he agrees with my neighbor’s fiancĂ© that you have to be careful when celebrating your own religion.  The sergeant mentions that troops have to be mindful because interpreters and other Muslims who may not believe in the same things that they do surround them.

Another interesting point of view a lieutenant brings up is a comparison between Christians celebrating Easter in Afghanistan and Muslims celebrating Ramadan in the United States.  He says that a holiday shouldn’t be more or less important to someone because of where they celebrate it.  It should have the same importance because it is part of the faith.

I think this video makes us realize that the men and women fighting in Afghanistan are people’s sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters.  I admit I sometimes forget about the people fighting for us.  I just read stories about the current war and look for details of events.  It is difficult for me to put faces to the soldiers I read about because I do not know that many people fighting overseas.  I think many Americans feel this way, as well.  Viewing and reading stories about soldiers during holidays makes me feel closer to them.   It makes me feel grateful that I can celebrate Passover comfortably, while the soldiers are celebrating their respective holidays overseas in a nontraditional way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Why did Obama visit Afghanistan?

As I was thinking about my post for The Afghanistan Project, I kept coming back to one central question: why did President Obama visit Afghanistan last week? What goals did he have for his trip, which was just six hours long? One possible answer came in the form of a Taliban message mocking Obama's visit. According to The Washington Post, a message from the Taliban said that Obama's visit proves he hasn't made any real progress in Afghanistan:
"By making a six-hour unannounced trip to Afghanistan ..., Obama proved that his military strategy and surge of 30,000 troops, his morale-boosting propaganda, have all failed to make a dent" Taliban website
Even if we set aside the group's obvious anti-war bias, the message might have a point. By appearing before troops stationed at Bagram air base, President Obama both brings a smile to troops' faces and shows that he's still interested in the situation in Afghanistan. This point was echoed by New York Times photojournalist Stephen Crowley:
"The president’s six-hour visit was intended in part to shore up morale as American and Afghan forces prepare for an all-out assault on Taliban militants in the southern province of Kandahar" Stephen Crowley
And finally, here's what The New York Times had to say:
"Mr. Obama’s visit... included a boisterous pep rally with American troops. It was his first trip as president to the scene of an eight-year-old war he has stamped as his own" The New York Times
It seems fairly evident that Obama's visit was a sort of PR stunt intended to rally support around the war both for Americans at home and troops stationed in Afghanistan. By talking to troops and showing he's willing to travel to the war-torn country, Obama shows he is interested in the war that he has "stamped as his own."

Eight years on and the war in Afghanistan doesn't look like it's coming to a close. It's tough to keep Americans interested—few other American conflicts have lasted so long. More important still is keeping American soliders motivated as the conflict continues to be extremely deadly. As Penelope wrote in her blog post, the number of troops killed in Afghanistan is about double what it was at this point in 2009.

There's another benefit: it got the U.S. (and world!) media to cover Afghanistan. As the war drags on, news from Afghanistan has definitely dropped off the front page and the nightly news. In fact, Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) ranted against the U.S. media's apparent lack of interest in the war. He was angry that the press hadn't shown up to cover a Congressional debate over a resolution to withdraw troops from Afghanistan:
"It's despicable, the national press corps right now... We're talking about war and peace, three billion dollars, 1,000 lives and no press! No press!" Patrick Kennedy
Instead, Kennedy said the media were voraciously covering allegations of sexual abuse by Congressman Eric Massa (D-NY). Once again, the press had chosen to focus on a timely scandal rather than on the ongoing war that's killing hundreds of Americans every year. The sex scandal is breaking news that's happening now; the war is eight years old with little new information. And in the web-connected, 24-hour news cycle, the newest buzz always wins out.

So President Obama's trip most likely had two goals. Firstly, to raise morale and support for the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Secondly, to make people pay attention to the war. And we really should pay attention, because we're sending millions of dollars and scores of young Americans there every single day.