Sunday, June 24, 2007

Who are the heroes? And why do we ignore them?

There were endless news stories about the tragic death of nine South Carolina firefighters in the media last week. Driving to and from work the day of their funeral, I caught at least three distinct references on NPR, including a brief clip of the mayor speaking in somber tones about what heroes they were. The coverage was hagiographic, everywhere -- as in this piece, Firefighters pay tribute to those who answered 'death's call' -- in a small-town paper in Massachusetts. Or this piece, 'Brotherhood of Honor,' from Worcester, Massachusetts.

Massachusetts!! It's a long way from South Carolina.

Firefighting is a hard, dangerous job. I believe that those who choose to become firefighters do so partially out of a sense of duty and service, and I am sure that they are brave. Their death was tragic, and their remembrance worthwhile.

But their incredibly public death and remembrance starkly demonstrated what is utterly, totally missing from our public discourse today -- and the echo of its absence rang loud to me all that day, and still.

The day after the South Carolina fire, nine soldiers and Marines died in Iraq.

Where were their two thousand news stories?

Every day, our soldiers and Marines are dying in Iraq. Eighty-six have died thus far in June -- four every day, day after day. Their job is harder and more dangerous than any firefighter's. They too serve out of a sense of duty and service, and their bravery is beyond question.

But their death is doubly tragic, and their lack of remembrance doubly stark. They are dying not in an attempt to extinguish a blazing warehouse. They are giving their lives in a futile attempt to temporarily bank the raging fires of sectarian collapse in Iraq, so that the failed policies and cynical policy-makers of the Bush administration can escape part of the blame they so richly deserve.

Meanwhile, we, and our media, sit silent, our gaze awkwardly averted; or we throw ourselves into frenzied ceremonies around some other, smaller, but at least meaningful tragedy. How can we let one small sadness overwhelm our sense of the greatest tragedy of our times? Why does no one make this point? Silence, here, is complicity.

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