Editorial: We must not forget (Brattleboro Reformer)

Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and this week, newspapers, magazines and airwaves will be filled with stories marking the occasion.

This will be a rare moment when Iraq gets media attention. Sadly, public awareness of the war of late has reflected the news media's lack of interest in covering the war.

The Pew Research Center on People and the Press released a report last week that demonstrates how the declining amount of news coverage of Iraq has affected American's perception of the war.

The Pew researchers started with a simple question: How many Americans in uniform have died in Iraq? Last August, 54 percent of those surveyed gave the correct answer - about 3,500. When the asked the question three weeks ago, only 28 percent knew the right answer - nearly 4,000.

That correlates to the lack of press attention to the war. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the percentage of news stories devoted to the war dropped from an average of 15 percent of the news hole in July 2007 to just 3 percent in February.

When something is in the news all the time, people pay attention to it. When it is not, attention wanders elsewhere.

Pew's News Index Survey found that Iraq was the most closely followed news story in all but five weeks of the six months of 2007. It's been less dominant since then. Only once since July 2007 has Iraq been ranked as the public's top weekly story.

Then again, you don't always need to read a newspaper to see the effect of the war on our nation.

Here in Vermont, where more our residents have died per capita than in any other state, most of us know someone who served in Iraq. For us here at the Reformer, the grave of Pfc. Kyle Gilbert is only a few hundred feet from our front door. It is a daily reminder of the human cost of this war.

The story of Kyle Gilbert, the first Windham County resident to die in this war, has been told often in our newspaper. Sadly, there are nearly 4,000 other American families who have had to go through similar pain and loss. Add to that the 30,000 other families who have had a loved one badly injured. Add to that the tens of thousands more who are returning from Iraq unable to emotionally deal with the things they've done and seen. They are all part of a whole new generation of Americans touched by this war.

The grief of families whose sons and daughters didn't come home. The pain of families who are dealing with sons and daughters who have returned physically or psychologically damaged. The ripple effect on the hundreds of thousands of friends, relatives, and co-workers of those deployed to Iraq. All this is apparently not the stuff of front page stories.

But even though it is not in the papers or on the television, people seem to know. A USA Today/Gallup Poll taken last week asked what course would be better for the United States in Iraq. Thirty-five percent said keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until things get better. Sixty percent said set a timetable for removing troops and stick to it no matter what happens.

That is where we are at after five years. In poll after poll, a majority of Americans want to see some sort of exit strategy to get our soldiers out of Iraq. But this war, which has lasted longer than World War II and has cost this nation more money than the Vietnam War, grinds on.