I said goodbye this weekend to someone who is leaving for Iraq soon.
She's in the Army and will be serving in a noncombat role in what should be a very safe part of Baghdad. I don't mean to inflate our connection - we're somewhere between acquaintances and friends - but because she's only the second military person I have personally known to go off to the war, she makes it less the out-of-sight, out-of-mind conflict than it sometimes seems to have become for me.
And for a lot of other people, I suspect. This Sunday, I was reading The Washington Post and was struck by two stories - a short one about three American soldiers dying in Afghanistan, and an even briefer one about two soldiers dying in Iraq.
They were way inside, on page 15A.
But at least they were in there: The Sun had no mention of the fatalities. The New York Times ran a story on Saturday about the Afghanistan deaths, but hadn't reported the two deaths in Iraq as of yesterday.
I'm not surprised, or even advocating that the deaths should have been front-page news. The Israel-Lebanon cease-fire, the foiled terrorist plot in London - those are the more immediate stories on the international front these days.
But here we are, at war in Afghanistan for almost five years and in Iraq for almost 3 1/2 , and on the home front, if you hear about the wars at all, it's in the context of politics.
The most we've heard about Iraq lately has been about how it affected the Democratic primary race in Connecticut, where political newcomer Ned Lamont was able to beat three-term incumbent Joe Lieberman simply by taking an anti-war stance. (Well, the millions of his own dollars that Lamont had at his disposal, the liberal bloggers who pushed his cause and Lieberman's kissy-face relationship with President Bush also helped.)
Vice President Dick Cheney was quick to scold Connecticut voters, saying their voting for an anti-war candidate could encourage "al-Qaida types" seeking to "break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."
Not to be outdone, Lieberman would similarly inflate his little defeat in his little state to international proportions after the terrorist plan to use liquid explosives to blow up airplanes was revealed last week: "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out [of Iraq] by a date certain," he declared, "it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England."
It's probably too much to ask in an election year, but shouldn't the war be treated as more than just another political prop?
Beverly Fabri organizes welcome-home parties when military personnel return to Chestertown, but sometimes has trouble getting area officials to show up. She thinks, darkly, that maybe if they were returning "in pine boxes" there would be better turnout.
Her son Nick - more formally, Pvt. Bryan Nicholas Spry of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division - came home that way. He died in a Humvee accident in Iraq in February 2004. He was 19, and the ninth Marylander to die there, by The Sun's accounting. The state's toll is now up to 52; the U.S. total is about 2,600.
And yet, Fabri said, "You just don't hear about it anymore. The news doesn't cover it any more. The government doesn't acknowledge it, even."
She suspects that's because the war is going badly. "I assume it will be like Vietnam: We'll pull the troops out," she said. "We did what we could. They have the Iraqi troops trained as much as they're going to be trained. They got more training than my son did. He got 16 weeks, and he was sent to Iraq."
Fabri and another Maryland mother, Linda Faulstich of Leonardtown, believe their sons died defending our freedom. And yet, two years after Pfc. Raymond J. Faulstich Jr.'s death - the truck he was driving near Najaf came under attack - his mother sees that freedom being curtailed, in the name of the war on terror.
Last year, she was flying from BWI to Florida and came under extra screening at the airport by security workers who wanded and felt at her breasts until she wanted to just turn around and go home.
"I said, `Listen, my son died in Iraq, and I am not a terrorist,'" she said.
Now, with the revelations earlier this year that the National Security Agency had compiled a database of telephone calls made in the U.S. as a way of tracking terrorist activity, Faulstich worries that her own communications with friends she made while living in England for a year were flagged somehow.
She supported the war - and her son when he went to fight in Iraq. Now, though, the point of the war eludes her.
"You want to know the truth? I think [the U.S.] should leave and let [the Iraqis] solve their own problems," she says. "Their sons are dying, our sons are dying, what's the difference? What are we accomplishing?"