A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria, Apr. 28, 2016.

A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria, Apr. 28, 2016. AP File

Petty Officer Keating Died 2 Miles From the Syrian Front. How Far Are You?

The war came to him. What will it take for it to reach the rest of us?

Two hospitals bombed in the space of only a few days, killing doctors, mothers, and babies. More than 250 dead just since April’s end. Welcome to life and death in Aleppo. Have most of us even heard of it?

On the ground in Syria’s flashpoint city, the carnage has been devastating; the images seeping out, heartbreaking. Overseas, or on international TV news channels, you can learn a lot about the war. But on the TV airwaves in the United States, the brutal fighting has barely broken through in a news cycle dominated by unfiltered Donald Trump speeches and endless 2016 campaign coverage and political autopsies.

In America, Syria barely exists.

Some news blips reach American airwaves, such as the discussion about "safe zones" that ended quickly when the White House declared it impractical and undesirable to send the troops needed to enforce it. Or another diplomatic hustle to renew a “cessation of hostilities” that extended to Aleppo. Or that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to Geneva to try to get the parties to negotiate an end to the five-year Syrian civil war – most importantly, with the Russians, who have stood firmly by the Syrian president. At the United Nations, the British ambassador implored the international community to do more. “This council has an obligation to the people of Aleppo,” he said at the U.N. Security Council. “We cannot choose to do nothing in the face of such barbarity. To do so would be tantamount to collusion with the very forces destroying Aleppo.”

But doing nothing is just what the world has done for years as the barbarity has ground on and amped up. We as an American public have paid precious little attention.

This has consequences. We condemn but permit the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Syria. We worry but mostly watch the migration of more than 1 million refugees into Europe and debate a few thousand entering this country, and we allow ourselves to be shocked when Americans in uniform are tragically lost to us, like Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV

Talk to those involved in the advise-and-assist mission in Iraq and Syria and they will tell you the reality of a war that knows no front lines. American forces are highly trained, exceptionally lethal, incredibly effective, and determined to accomplish their mission. But their nation, with its attention elsewhere, barely has a shadow of an idea about what these forces have been asked to do. The special operators in combat and their commanders back home are trained to be silent warriors. So America as a nation has come to trust them, yet hide behind the idea that special operations and drones can achieve any objective nearly cost-free, and certainly without disturbing the general public’s way of life.   

But this task is not anything near cost-free. Ask the mourning family of Petty Officer Keating.

Compared to the war reporting that flooded from the Iraq War last decade, precious few American journalists today are on the ground or near front lines. The exceptional few do tremendous work that is rarely read or seen widely enough to break through the noise of this media era. They are not afforded the protection of the U.S. military as embedded reporters and there will be no brigades combat teams to roll with into Mosul. Most of us must watch the war from across an ocean, if we can find it on cable TV or 5-inch phone screens.

Having a sterile distance from the humanitarian disaster of the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS has helped us become a nation ignorant of the fights waged in our name and of what this country is asking of its warriors.

Just see the verbal gymnastics the White House engaged in around the fallen SEAL, Keating. His was a combat death, but not as part of a combat mission, the Obama administration continued to argue.

“Secretary Carter earlier today described this death as a combat death. That's accurate. This was an individual who was not in a combat mission, but he was in a dangerous place. And his position came under attack. He was armed, trained, and prepared to defend himself. Unfortunately, he was killed. And he was killed in combat,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest Tuesday. “But that was not part of his mission. His mission was specifically to offer advice and assistance to those Iraqi forces that were fighting for their own country.”

Said Earnest of Keating, “He was not on the front lines, but he was two miles away, and it turns out that being two miles away from the front lines between Iraqi forces and ISIL is a very dangerous place to be.”

Two miles. We sent Keating to stand and fight two miles from the battle. That’s a lot closer than the great distance most of us in this country stand from this war.

The war came to him. What will it take for it to reach the rest of us?