Sunday, November 20, 2005

Honoring the Fallen

To mark the somber occasion of the 2,000th American military death in Iraq, President Bush trotted out a tried and true talking point, insisting, as he has in the past, that “the best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission” in Iraq.

This statement is a particularly insidious talking point; it is meant to cut off all debate about Iraq. There is a sinister elegance to the statement. It suggests that anyone who questions the Bush administration's policy in Iraq is dishonoring brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice, because the policy is itself a way of honoring their deaths. The statement neatly links dead American soldiers with the Bush administration in an unbreakable bond.

The president’s statement is also insidious because it co-opts every fallen soldier as a posthumous draftee of the administration’s policy. Some soldiers, and their families, would undoubtedly have it no other way; they supported the president in life and would have no problem supporting him in death. But we know this is not a universal feeling. There are soldiers who, while honoring their commitment to serve, did not agree with the president’s policy. There are even soldiers -- heaven forfend!—who voted against the president in the last election. That is their right as Americans.

As an example, Cindy Sheehan has made it clear that she does not want the president to use her son Casey’s death as an argument for staying the course in Iraq. Yet the president ignores her wishes, and the wishes of other mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of the fallen who, like Ms. Sheehan, do not support the president. There is something heartless about this, about subordinating the wishes of those who lost their loved ones to a blunt political purpose.

The administration’s talking point is eerily Orwellian. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a group of farm animals rise up against their cruel human masters and seize control of the farm. The farm’s pigs, who lead the other animals after the rebellion, train their supporters to loudly chant “four legs good, too legs bad” whenever any dissenter voices opposition to their rule. The president’s “honor the fallen” statement has the same purpose; it is intended to drown out dissent, indeed, to make dissent unpatriotic.

The president has set up a false choice. It is quite possible to honor the soldiers while questioning U.S. policy in Iraq. These are separate issues. There are no reports of Americans questioning the bravery or integrity of soldiers who have fought and died in Iraq. This appears to be a universal, or nearly universal, view among Americans; that our military is deserving of respect. But many Americans do question the president’s policy in Iraq. The president suggests that they can only be faithful to the troops by supporting him; in other words, there is something unpatriotic about opposing the administration’s policy in Iraq.

Another Republican president, who Bush has identified as a hero, exposed the fallacy of the attempt to equate patriotism with loyalty to a particular administration. Theodore Roosevelt declared that “patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official.” There is no evidence that Americans on either side of the Iraq debate have abandoned their country.

Patriotic Americans, Americans who support the troops, and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, are not required to support the administration. Those who support the president can be patriots, just as those who oppose the president can be patriots. Similarly, those who fight our wars, and those who fall, are worthy of being honored whether they supported the president or not, and whether the policy in Iraq is changed or not. Their sacrifice is a matter of record and cannot be erased. The president should recognize this, and should stop insisting he knows best how to honor the fallen troops. We should have a real, open, honest debate about what to do in Iraq, without the implicit charge that those who oppose the president are dishonoring their fallen countrymen and women.


Blogger Mr Ornery said...

Damned shame you make so much sense. Bush adminstration supporters and their ilk hate that. I plan to stop back and am bookmarking your blog so that when I feel energetic, I can place the link on my own. And no, my blog is nothing at all akin to yours. It's all over the place in subject matter.

12:59 AM  

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