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Question of the Day
It was another week at war in Afghanistan, another string of U.S. casualties and another collective shrug by a nation weary of a faraway conflict whose hallmark is its grinding inconclusiveness.
After nearly 11 years, many by now have grown numb to the sting of losing soldiers such as Pfc. Shane W. Cantu of Corunna, Mich. He died of shrapnel wounds in the remoteness of eastern Afghanistan, not far from the getaway route that Osama bin Laden took when U.S. forces invaded after Sept. 11, 2001, and began America’s longest war.
Cantu was 10 back then.
Nearly every day, the Pentagon posts another formulaic death notice, each one brief and unadorned, revealing the barest of facts – name, age and military unit – but no words that might capture the meaning of the loss.
The death of Cantu, who joined the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade on Sept. 11 last year and went to Afghanistan last month, was among five U.S. deaths announced this past week as the Democrats and Republicans wrapped up back-to-back presidential nominating conventions.
U.S. troops are still dying in Afghanistan at a pace that often doesn’t register beyond their hometowns.
So far this year, the average is 31 a month, or one per day. National attention is drawn, briefly, to grim and arbitrary milestones such as the 1,000th and 2,000th war deaths.
But days, weeks and months pass with little focus by the general public or its political leaders on the individuals behind the statistics.
Each week at war has a certain sameness for those not fighting it, yet every week brings distinct pain and sorrow to families who learn that their son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother was killed or wounded.
Cantu died Aug. 28, but the Pentagon did not publicly release his name until Sept. 5. He was memorialized by his paratrooper “sky soldier” comrades in Italy on Sept. 6 and honored in his hometown of Corunna. He would have turned 21 next month.
His roommate in Afghanistan, Pfc. Cameron Richards, 23, remembers Cantu as a larger-than-life figure, a guy with an infectious smile who took pride in whipping up spaghetti, tacos and other dinners on his portable skillet. It was a knack he attributed to having grown up with five sisters with whom he shared family meal duties.
“He was the type of person you wanted to be around every day,” Pfc. Richards said in a telephone interview Friday from the brigade’s headquarters in Italy, where he returned after being wounded by shrapnel from a hand grenade two weeks before Cantu was killed.
“When he was in the room, you knew he was in the room. He’d be the loudest one laughing,” he added. “He impacted everybody.”
As the war drags on, it remains a faraway puzzle for many Americans.
Max Boot, a military historian and defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, has called Afghanistan the “Who Cares?” war.
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