Remembering Ingratitude on Thanksgiving

Early this week, The New York Times gave front page coverage to a tragic death. Target, a stray dog that had saved the lives of military personnel in Afghanistan, had been mistakenly euthanized after running away from his new family. Target's death was covered on every major news channel, a follow-up to the round of press appearances (including a spot on Oprah) that Target made soon after his well timed bark.

Target's death was front page news, while American military deaths remained buried in the middle of the paper, and the deaths of Iraqi and Afghan civilians received no mention at all. Target's service to the United States won him a home in the United States, but workers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been abandoned, even as they've put their lives on the line to help protect our soldiers.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, our troops have relied on local translators, cultural interpreters, and go-betweens. Because their help is so critical, insurgents have targeted them mercilessly. Since the beginning of these wars, we have not shown these men and women even half the gratitude that we offered to a dog in the past week.

Even after the deterioration of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has kept strict caps on the number of Iraqis and Afghans who may seek refugee status in the United States. Former translators and aides have been brutally murdered as a warning to other collaborators. If they flee to neighboring countries, insurgents take their revenge on the families left behind.

The ingratitude and callous disregard that our country has shown these translators and their families is sickening. Even when soldiers and their commanders have pleaded for a safe haven for the brave men and women who saved their lives, they have been hamstrung by the quota limits.

A great deal of the culpability lies with the government officials and bureaucracies that have left these translators at risk, but a certain amount of blame lies with us and with the mainstream media that enables our blithe indifference to the human cost of these wars.

Popular media outlets might plead impotence, claiming that Target is a human interest story, with details that sell papers and drive traffic to their websites, but they are selling short the power of the press. The job of the media, as it was in the muckraker days, is to remind us of the power citizens have and our responsibility to use it well.

Suppose, at a minimum, every dead American soldier got the same level of press coverage and eulogies as Target did. Suppose we decided that the civilian translators and aides who put their lives and the lives of their families at risk to keep our troops safe were owed as much protection and efforts at resettlement as we gave to a dog. Suppose the media spent time finding the human interest inherent in every life and reported on the lives and families of the dead, instead of dishing more details on the latest quirky reality show personality. If we were confronted daily with the devastation our government wreaks in our name, we could not help but protest and organize.

Representative Pat Schroeder used to say, "Half the people in the world go to bed at night wishing they had the same power you do." As we give thanks this year, we must remember that our blessings carry responsibilities. If our government has abandoned its duties to the defenseless, and the media have abandoned their duty to us to be muckrakers, we must hold both to account.

Call your congressional representatives and ask them to fight to raise quotas for Iraqi and Afgan refugees. Call your local and national news stations and newspapers and ask them why they've covered the death of Target and not the individual Iraqi translators who have been targeted for execution. At all times, but particularly at Thanksgiving, we need to work to be worthy of the things we are thankful for.