Every day, Mother Jones, an American magazine, publishes a photograph from a war zone or military base. The pictures, taken in places like Ramadi, Iraq, or Kabul, Afghanistan, are labeled with the date, the location and a bracing tagline: “We’re still at war.” Indeed, today marks 10 years since the beginning of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. That, as my colleague Tony Karon notes, is 326 days longer than the Soviet Army spent there. Afghanistan is America’s longest-running war.
And yet, over the years, the conflict has proved easy to ignore. Public interest in the fighting shifts with the political season. With the U.S. on the brink of recession, at the cusp of what promises to be a gritty, divisive presidential campaign, the 10-year anniversary of the deadly—and disastrously expensive—war might have occasioned some reflection. It might still. But this week, at least, the anniversary has been overshadowed by the death of Steve Jobs, the brilliant American businessman who brought elegant consumer technology to the (relatively wealthy) masses. TIME literally stopped the presses to put him on the cover. And around the world vigils mark his passing.
There are many good reasons to mourn Jobs. He helped transform communications and inspired many. Amid the gloom of the present, the brainy, bespectacled Californian represented the possibility of the future. He was, as Alexis Madrigal writes for the Atlantic, “the white wizard in the black turtleneck holding the forces of decline at bay.” Only a small fraction of the world could afford his wares, but that didn’t stop a not-so-small fraction from coveting them—or from admiring him. As Madrigal put it, “We could all want to be Steve Jobs.” For most of us, though, “the occasional glimpse of our better selves in the reflection of an iPad is enough.”
To catch that glimpse, we’re willing to forget. We forget the harsh realities of globalized labor that lurk just beneath those brushed metallic surfacs. We pretend that it was the iPod and the iPad, not war, that defined the decade. Steve Jobs and the iPhone may be the American dream, but Afghanistan is American reality.