American-Led Violence and Dishonesty in Afghanistan Goes Underreported

Students Have a Responsibility to Demand the Ugly Truth from the Media


Published: April 22, 2010

For decades now, the news media have been under fire from soft-hearted viewers who would rather not have their dinnertime television programming operate by the motto, “If it bleeds, it leads.” We all know someone who refuses to read or watch the news with the excuse that it is “too depressing” or “too graphic” for their tastes. And with the constant bombardment of political bickering, increasing unemployment statistics and celebrity sex scandals, it’s not so hard to understand how the news might get some people down.

Unfortunately, the world can be a depressing and certainly a graphic place, despite the fact that the so-called “American Dream” gives the middle and upper classes the ability to be selective about which parts of worldly reality we choose to acknowledge.  Americans don’t like to see poor people dying because it forces them to question their own country’s role in the violence. This is why, amid Tiger Woods’s mistresses and Glenn Beck’s/Keith Olbermann’s blowhard ranting, most Americans weren’t even aware of a despicable, recently exposed U.S.- and NATO-led cover-up regarding the brutal murders of five Afghan civilians by NATO troops in February. To make matters worse, two of the victims were pregnant mothers, with 16 children between them. The U.S. originally denied having any involvement of the deaths of the women, attributing them to “honor killings” by members of the women’s family. In early April, the American military in Kabul admitted to having killed the women, and eye-witnesses claim that the soldiers dug bullets out of the dead bodies with knives and washed blood off the walls of the victims’ home in order to deny having shot them.

This is the kind of news most people would describe as “depressing,” “graphic” or “not what I want to watch with my dinner.” It is all of these things not just because of its violent nature, but especially because it exposes the United States’ blatantly inexcusable atrocities. has one article and one video news segment regarding this issue. The New York Times has two pieces online; The Washington Post has one. Fox News has none.

While the choices made in the media regarding which stories get how much airtime are sometimes confusing and backward, the fact is that, though part of the news media’s mission is to inform the public, they must also appeal to the public’s interests in order to stay in business. If Americans don’t want to see young, innocent Afghan mothers being shot by our troops for no reason, the news isn’t going to show it. Until Americans decide they don’t want the privilege of selective awareness, the media will continue to feed us ignorance.

As college students and young adult citizens of the United States, it is our responsibility not to shield ourselves from these less-than-uplifting events the way previous generations may have preferred to do. We identify ourselves as students, as inherent seekers of knowledge, and yet many of us are content with the same watered-down worldview that allowed Bush a second term despite his arbitrary and impossible war in Iraq.

Whether we support the U.S.’s presence in Afghanistan or not, it is our right and our responsibility to be able to base our opinions on accurate perceptions of what exactly our troops are doing there. Civilian casualties are not just devastating for the individuals who are directly affected by the violence; there are much wider consequences for the perception of America among Afghans and for our own national security. These reckless killings are exactly the kind of fodder Al Qaeda employs to recruit frustrated and traumatized Afghans who are sick of seeing their people die at the hands of those who are supposedly liberating them. If the U.S. and NATO allow this careless and dishonest behavior to occur in the warzone, we are not fighting terrorism; we are giving it fuel.

This is the kind of information Americans—especially young Americans—need to know. As the children of a generation that grew jaded by the ever-increasing list of Vietnam dead on the nightly news, some of us find it second nature to tune out the discouragingly reoccurring reports of violence in the Middle East. There is no better time than now to break out of this habit, and there is no better group than students to make the first cracks in the mold. As future journalists, political scientists, lawyers, theologians, professors, you name it, it is up to us to enter these leadership positions with our eyes fully open to what is going on in our world, even if it’s painful to watch. We are the future of America—the least we can do is understand the present.