Amid promises of imminent troop withdrawals in the Middle East, last month was the United States Armed Forces' deadliest in Afghanistan, a war which commemorates its 10th anniversary on October 7. Afghanistan is either the longest or second-longest war in U.S. history, depending on what one believes the official start date of the Vietnam War to be—a hotly debated topic among credible historians on either side. What isn't in doubt, however, is that both were long, grueling, virtually unwinnable missions which posed extreme challenges to American notions of how to wage war effectively.
Afghanistan Since Sept. 2011
More Detailed Stories on the Lives and Deaths of These and Other Soldiers
Yet when it comes to the ways America's longest wars have penetrated the citizenry's collective consciousness, Vietnam and Afghanistan couldn't differ more.
Vietnam, whether one fought or not, was inescapable. It dominated headlines and public discourse, sparked oft-violent protests due to conscription and other matters, and was the fuse that ignited modern America's most significant cultural and civil-rights revolutions to date. Without Vietnam, there might have been no organized counterculture; to wit, the Kent State shootings prompted Seattle Weekly's owners to found their first newspaper, in Arizona, in 1970.
Conversely, Afghanistan—an all-volunteer effort, aside from contentious stop-loss redeployments—registers as but a blip on most civilians' emotional radars. Much of this has to do with the fact that it was surpassed in 2003 by a bloodier, more controversial war effort in Iraq, as well as the ongoing recessionary doldrums—stomped even further into the hole by last week's news that a record one in six Americans is now living below the poverty line.
The media landscape has been similarly decimated. Where once even small-town newspapers and television stations boasted foreign and capital correspondents, the tech-fractured industry-at-large now scrapes by with a minimum of centralized personnel, inevitably focusing on local news and subjects which generate maximum page views (see: Gaga, Lady).
Seattle Weekly is not immune to these shifting tides. But, for one issue anyway, we aim to atone for whatever short shrift we've given the wars in the Middle East by devoting every inch of editorial space to remembering the lives of the 393 men and women with Washington state ties who have died while serving there. We're able to do this due to the diligence of one of our reporters, Rick Anderson, who for the past nine years has dutifully posted to our website obituaries of these soldiers—sometimes featuring fresh interviews with friends and families, and always humanizing, in ways a tombstone can't, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Now, en masse, these heartfelt, occasionally humorous remembrances have found a home in our print edition, and are sure to annihilate common caricatures of the American soldier.
It's an extreme gesture, to be sure. And for those who miss Seattle Weekly's usual mix of arts and local news coverage, rest assured you'll find up-to-date content at seattleweekly.com. But in a hyper-connected culture where various gadgets ensure that the average person's attention span will be tugged in a dozen directions at once, devoting an entire, uninterrupted issue to remembering the lives of those who've set their personal beliefs aside and fought for our freedom seems the only proper antidote. We hope you'll do these soldiers—and yourselves—justice by reading every last word. (Click here for the obituaries, and for links to more detailed coverage from the past nine years of Seattle Weekly.)
MIKE SEELY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF