The disappearance of Laci. The discovery of Laci and Connor’s bodies. The trial of Scott Peterson. The disappearance of Natalee Holloway. The murder of Pamela Vitale. Yes, these tragedies are worthy of the diligence of writers like Theodore Dreiser and Truman Capote as they tug at the emotions of television viewers everywhere who open their hearts and homes to the families of both the victims and the accused to see justice served. Today, we heard hour after hour of news about the arrest of a sixteen year old boy in the bludgeoning death of the wife of prominent attorney, Daniel Horowitz.
Meanwhile, submerged beneath this continuous coverage was the crawl: Four Army soldiers and a marine were killed by roadside bombs in Iraq.
Twenty three troops have died in combat this week, but there was very little about this from the mouths of television anchors.
Soon, it will be three months since my brother Mark’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, was killed by a suicide bomber. His battalion is now stateside. A few days ago, Chase’s brother received a video, filmed just hours before Chase died. According to my mother, the film showed him as he horsed around with his friends, squirting a water pistol and being the kid that he was, full of “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails.” Who knows what Chase was thinking? He’d already had two close calls. He’d told his brother that he’d driven over a bomb that exploded seconds later behind his vehicle. In a letter to his sister which she read to me, he’d written, “No parent would want their child over here.”
I think of that Sunday morning when my sister called and said, “Chase was killed in Iraq last night.” Her words echo in my head many times a day and go to bed with me every night when I lie awake, trying to fall asleep. Saturday, the day before we learned of Chase’s death, I spoke with my brother. He told me that Chase was in the field and would call when he could. It was at the end of that week when all those troops from Ohio died and my mother had a terrible feeling, almost a portent about Chase.
In fact, my mother asked my niece who’d stopped by on Saturday, “Do you understand your brother may not come out of this alive and that if he does, he may be wounded physically and mentally?” Chase’s sister never considered this a possibility. She just expected him to return when his tour was over and be the same person he was when he left. All of us, as we went about our routines, were thinking of Chase, talking about him, and he was already dead. We just didn’t know it yet.
Many people deny the reality of this war. Even those who have been touched personally still refuse to read and become informed about the reasons we’re in Iraq. It’s easier to accept that we’re there because we’re fighting to preserve our freedoms and to
bring democracy to the people of the region than to examine the huge role that American empire and oil acquisition play in our policies, not to mention that war generally insures the reelection of an incumbent.
And it’s more palatable to believe that our leaders would never take us down a path that’s based on lies. But it’s also obscured from our minds by media sleuths who abandon their role as reporters to bring us the lurid details of the latest disappearances, kidnappings, and murders, babysitting these stories while neglecting this war of choice.
So, as I watched the news which showed hours of commentary on the Pamela Vitale murder, I waited for someone to SPEAK the body-count in Iraq, to tell us not only the number of American troops killed in the last 24 hours, or this week but the number of Iraqi dead as well. Instead, this information only looped around beneath the intrusive rant of our Cable luminaries.
The number of American dead is approaching 2,000. Chase’s number was somewhere around 1,830. In the less than three months since my nephew’s death, more than 150 troops have died and, probably, thousands of Iraqis have perished.
The tragedies of this war are measured by more than death, destruction, and lies. One of the greatest failings is that so many Americans choose to focus their attention on the disappearance of Natalee and, now, the murder of Pamela Vitale. And while I feel profound sympathy for these families whose lives have been shattered by loss, I’m more than a little outraged that this is what mesmerizes the public and shunts the victims of an illegal, unnecessary war to a more acceptable distance. While our television journalists behave like actors in popular dramas like CSI: Miami, the war rages on, the death toll mounts, and some of us are left to wonder when the real news of this calamity will impact our citizenry and turn attention to those who must be held accountable.
Chase’s death will never be an acceptable distance from my family’s hearts. The troops killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one, should be “Breaking News” every single day.
So I pose these questions: When are Americans going to tune in to this war the way they do to CNN, MSNBC, or FOX? And when are the media giants going to deal with the mounting death toll the same way it covers sensational disappearances and murders? When will television journalists start eulogizing our troops and Iraqis so thoroughly that there will be a demand for an end to the occupation of Iraq?
The Administration and its spin masters should be worried about the possibility of two, new spin-offs—CSI: Washington, D. C. and CSI: Iraq.
Missy Comley Beattie is a writer, living in New York City. Her nephew Chase was killed in Iraq on August 6, 2005.