The current Washington Post/ABC News poll reports that the war in Afghanistan is listed as a priority for the President and the Congress by two percent of the electorate. Don’t tell that to these guys.
For the record, they are sleeping, not dead. The photo is gruesome, nonetheless, as it reminds us that there is little difference between a foxhole and a grave. The long, shallow holes in the earth are too close to the shape and size of a coffin; the soldiers’ bodies are bent as though broken or stiff with rigor mortis, and they are wrapped in sheets that look all too much like shrouds. The bare face and feet of the figure in the center add to the sense of vulnerability the suffuses the scene, while the covering over the face of the one on the left implies death’s finality.
In this context, one of the blessings of sleep is that you can wake up; another is that before awakening you can forget about where you are. These Marines were in their holes because they could be attacked at any time. The deserve some escape from that reality, and sleep is the best they can do in that regard. The American public probably wants to forget about Afghanistan, too. There doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do about the situation at the moment, and God knows we have plenty of problems at home, right?
Sleep is one thing, denial another. The willful forgetting of the fighting in Afghanistan may be understandable, but it is not excusable. The press has largely retreated into feel-good stories about the war, and that, too, can be explained. (I had to reach back half a year to pull this photo up.) This normalization of war should be resisted, however, as it only abets collective denial of the suffering that is war’s eternal harvest.
Like the soldiers in the photograph, everyone needs to sleep, and denial may be universal as well. But these Marines were not left unguarded as they sleep, and, likewise, they should not be dropped to the bottom of the list of national concerns. Because as they are forgotten, the truth of the photo will be completely exposed: the difference between a foxhole and a grave–and between a sleeping Marine and a dead one–is only a matter of time.
Photograph by David Guttenfelder/Associated Press.