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Tuesday night, I was watching our president declare that he would increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by 30,000 by summer 2010.
I had a Spanish paper due the next day, so I was simultaneously writing in Spanish while half-listening to the president’s speech in English. I was also contemplating what I would cook for dinner, if I ever felt like dragging myself into the kitchen. Needless to say, my full attention was not on the speech.
However, after the president announced his decision to carry through with the troop surge, I stopped writing my essay and looked up.
I watched the stone faces of the cadets at West Point. I watched the carefully practiced expressions of the uniformed leaders sitting in the back. I watched the calmly closed faces of the troops watching from Kabul.
We see these faces every night on the news as they roll onto the screen to talk about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their cool, collected calm is something we all take for granted, and we barely glance at the TV as we head out the door on our way to a carefree dinner with our friends.
We never stop to look twice.
For me, the president’s speech was simply good background noise that I could use to crank out another Spanish paper. It’s all the same at this point, isn’t it? What’s 30,000 more troops when we have however many thousands already over there?
The problem is, it’s not all the same. Every time a troop surge is announced, it means something for somebody’s Christmas plans, family vacation or child’s first birthday.
Many of us have yet to be touched by the impact of the current wars our country is facing. There is the occasional college student at Boulder involved in ROTC or with some military connections, but frankly, we have no idea what the war really means.
It becomes background noise, part of the scenery as we go about our daily lives or write Spanish papers.
Boulder in particular is such an oasis of military-less bliss. When my dad attended law school here in the 1970s, he didn’t dare wear his Air Force uniform out in public. Nasty things could happen to people who wore their military uniforms in Boulder, even if they hadn’t actually fought in Vietnam.
Too many of us don’t get it. We see the faces of stone, of controlled and practiced emotion on the TV, but rarely do we get to feel the cost of the war ourselves. We become so removed that we forget that the 30,000 number will mean that almost 30,000 families will spend a year, if not more, wondering if their loved ones will return to them alive.
We fail to see the people involved and understand the impact a presidential speech like this one has on families and their loved ones.
Numbers are people, but people aren’t just numbers.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Kate Spencer at Katherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.