A Night of Distraction

This past Sunday night, the CNN website displayed the large bold headline: “A Night of Distraction.” With Game Seven of the World Series, the Emmy Awards and “Toy Story 2” tempting viewers on television, many Americans spent the evening forgetting about anthrax and Osama. Instead they stared mindlessly at streams of electrons passing in front of their eyes.

Not that I’m being critical—I did it, too. But in a time of war, being distracted can be very costly.

While “The West Wing” racked up awards, the Associated Press reported that more ground forces were being sent into Afghanistan. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that “We’re setting in for the long haul.” Of course, there’s no word yet on how long that might take or what might happen after the Taliban falls.

While Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens faced off, the New York Times reported that a secret CIA office was among the buildings destroyed on Sept. 11. The office had held valuable documents on some of the most important counter-terrorism cases of the past several years.

And while Pixar’s Woody entertained complacent viewers, the Associated Press reported that a highly secretive court in the basement of the Justice Department might gain sweeping new powers due to the passage of Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The court is responsible for issuing warrants in foreign intelligence cases within the United States. And now the AP reports, “The government may never have to disclose who was targeted [with wiretapping], or why.”

With the status of the war in Afghanistan changing almost daily, and with little information being disclosed from the tight-lipped White House, keeping up-to-date on the actions of our government has never been more important.

Our stated objectives in this war against terrorism are vague. After all, President George W. Bush’s call for war against terrorism wherever it exists and Vice-President Dick Cheney’s suggestion that it could last for 50 years should, at the very least, give Americans pause enough to keep tabs on what their government is doing.

Of course, just because you watched the World Series doesn’t mean you are completely negligent of your duty to be informed. However, Sunday’s “Night of Distraction” is a symbol of American apathy. As the war drags on, it will likely become more and more difficult to keep informed. Still, as American citizens, it is our responsibility to seek out this information—even if the news media is less than forthcoming—to ensure that our government does not overstep its bounds.

Being cautious, and even being critical, of the military campaign does not make you unpatriotic. On the contrary, staying informed is a necessary ingredient of citizenship, and having open dialogues on governmental policy is about as American as it gets. Questioning the American exit strategy in this war, an exit strategy that presidential candidate Bush guaranteed would be a component of any military action, does not mean you are heartless. It simply means you don’t want to see the tragedies of Sept. 11 turn into another Vietnam War.