The Bush administration, though, has spared little effort and expense when it comes to shielding the grim reality of the war in Iraq from the public eye. Flag-draped coffins return to Dover in the dead of night, the corridors of Walter Reed Army Medical Center have been scrubbed from the slick-and-glossy covers of the print media, our TV screens have been sanitized, the slate of remembrance wiped clean and the public experience of war reduced to sterile statements of military commanders mindlessly mimicking the words we are at war.
As Andrew Rosenthal stated in his November 14, 2003 New York Times editorial: this White House has done everything it can to keep Mr. Bush away from the families of the dead, at least when there might be a camera around. The wounded, thousands of them, are even more carefully screened from the public. And the Pentagon has continued its ban on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, denying the dead soldiers and their loved ones even that simple public recognition of sacrifice.
George Bush has not attended a single funeral of a fallen soldier. What is more, he has persistently sought to thwart any public, communal, nationwide mourning for these losses and thus denied all of us the opportunity to honor the dead. He has, in essence, placed a moratorium on mourning. And in so doing, he has done the people of this country a grave disservice, for, as Thomas Doherty, author of Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture and World War II rightly points out, people of this nation also have a need to grieve.
Harsh as it is to say, however, the families are not the only ones who need to grieve. [...] ever since the funeral of JFK, the camera has been the portal through which Americans, collectively, bear witness and mourn their loved ones. The refusal to permit this solemn catharsis can only bespeak a fear in Washington that the coffins will come to represent not a noble sacrifice but a tragic waste.
Andrew Hudgins, in a 2004 article aptly titled Inadequate Gratitude and Imperfect Sorrow, provides an eloquent snapshot of the American psychic landscape:
These soldiers have sacrificed themselves for us as a people and we have an obligation to look at the cost we have exacted. It is an honor, an awful and sublime honor, that they must be accorded. We honor them and their deaths honor us.
But Cindy Sheehan has succeeded in putting a human face on a nation at warhers is an attempt to force the administration to face the facts in a face-to-face confrontation with death and the lives that are destroyed and inalterably changed by it.
At this writing, less than a week since the mother of 24-year old Casey Sheehan made the spontaneous decision not to allow Mr. Bush to continue undaunted on his capricious death-be-damned, devil-may-care, Im-on-vacation display of disrespect for the dead, over 12,000 people have signed the petition requesting that George Bush finally emerge from the frills of his fairytale foxhole at the Prairie Chapel Ranch to look the aftermath of his war in the eye.
My name is on that petition. And its not there because Im a stark-raving left wing lunatic radical; its not there as a statement of anti-war protest. Its there because I firmly believe that, regardless of our position for or against this war, regardless of political affiliation, regardless: we, as a people, have the solemn obligation to honor the deaths of soldiers who have died in our name. For the duration of this war, we have been denied the right to fulfill that obligation and sense of civic duty.
To this day, the President has yet to shed a public tear on behalf of the nation. To this day, he has neglected to demonstrate a modicum of palpable, heartfelt grief. To this day, bravado, brouhaha and ballyhoo about everything from non-existent WMDs to freedom on the march and an unimaginative litany of noble causes characterize Mr. Bushs way of sympathizing with families. Again and again, we are assured that it just breaks his heart think about a family weeping over the loss of a loved one.
I, for one, have been watching him pretty closely, and have yet to see a single tear trickle down this mans facewhich makes me wonder about the truth content of the statement he made from his vacation outpost: I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place. Some? Is there a single citizen in this country who does not feel anguish about the 1,800-plus deaths that have occurred as a direct consequence of Mr. Bushs policy decisions? This statement alone is enough to indicate that he stands in a minority of one, a lone star cowboy holed up in his big house on the Texas prairie who does not seem to grasp that theres more to the yellow ribbons and white crosses than dryasdust drivel and publicity stunts!
Mr. Bush and his right-wing media machine still seem to think the standoff in Texas is about politics, about partisan positions, about winning or losing a war. But its not. Its about lost lives. Lots of them. Its about compassion, about a nation coming together to express its profoundest sorrow, its deepest sympathy for those families who have lost loved ones: that is, whose loved ones are now deadat our expense and on our behalf, whether we agree or not: these lives have been snuffed out on our account.
Personally, Im tired of sitting alone in my living room with my own private moments of grief; tired of the only public expression of mourning being CBS Fallen Heroes clips on the evening news. Im tired the dog-and-pony show in which all those coffins Mr. Bush wont let us see become just so many notches in the Bush familys personal bully belt. There are bodies in those coffins, and those bodies belong to families whose name is not Bush. They are husbands, wives, mothers, sons, daughters, cousins and uncles. And, as Cindy Sheehan recently pointed out, they arent losttheyre dead. Those bodies belong to the nation, and it is the nations solemn duty to mourn them. To grieve, collectively and publiclywith or without the Presidents approval, participation and/or consent.
This isnt about politics, its about grief. Its not about sore losers or crying over spilled milk: we are crying over spilled blood! Its about a growing group of ordinary citizens trying to teach this callous cowboy how to care, this cold-blooded killer who calls himself Commander in Chief even as he bikes away his worries while the families of the 46 soldiers killed in the month of August alone attend funerals. Its about 62% of the nation trying to tell the boy in the bubble: we think you are wrong about this war.
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