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May 29, 2007

Silent As The Grave

MONTJOY: Once more I come to know of thee, King Harry,
If for thy ransom thou wilt now compound,
Before thy most assured overthrow:

KING HENRY V: I pray thee, bear my former answer back:
Bid them achieve me and then sell my bones.
Good God! why should they mock poor fellows thus?

- Henry V

trees1.jpg They stand crisply at attention in neat rows, spines ramrod straight, dress whites gleaming in the early morning fog.

They are the perfect soldiers: loyal, steadfast, courageous under fire. But of all the soldierly virtues, there is one which transcends all others.

They are silent.

Like the children they are so often presumed to be, they come when called, go where they are told to go, serve faithfully if not always without question. And when, finally, the last bullet has been fired those who emerge from that bloody crucible return to a world that does not always welcome them with open arms.

How we long for this day. But the sons, husbands, fathers who arrive on our doorsteps seem familiar and yet indefinably altered. In their eyes lurk the barren contours of an undiscovered country, a place with no maps or markers we are capable of understanding. It is as though, while they were gone, a frame in a movie projector simply froze for a few minutes while somewhere in the distance, all hell broke loose.

In another room someone is screaming. There are sounds of violence. A slap, shattering glass, and then a loud crash and the sound of inconsolable weeping. Then, suddenly, the movie starts up again as though nothing has occurred and we reach for our popcorn and shift restlessly in our seats, vaguely disturbed. How perfectly awful. Did any of that really happen? Better not to talk about it.

But for the people in that far off room, nothing will ever be the same again. And now there is only an ominous quiet. It is the silence of the grave; a blank slate that allows us to scribble anything we wish upon it:

It’s become common among Democrats to argue for withdrawing from Iraq in the name of the troops. In January, for instance, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler introduced a bill titled the Protect the Troops and Bring Them Home Act. In February, Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey sent a letter to Bush arguing that it was “time to truly support our troops—by bringing them home.” Fifteen members of Congress signed on. Senators, too, have been willing to support this idea. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said in a February floor speech that “the best way to support our troops serving in Iraq is to say ‘NO’ to the president’s escalation of the war.”

Haunted by Vietnam, Democrats are determined to express support for the troops. This is admirable. The truth of the matter, however, is this: many troops in Iraq, perhaps even most of them, want to stay and fight. That doesn’t mean that we should stay in Iraq any longer. It does mean, however, that if Democrats want to bridge the divide between themselves and the military—an effort further complicated by their opposition to the war—they’re going to have to recognize that arguing in the name of the troops isn’t going to work.

Indeed, what can America possibly learn from the troops when there are so many disinterested public servants willing to speak out on their behalf? The enforced silence of our men and women in uniform is not only politically expedient but downright necessary. Without it, so many things would be impossible.

Only if the troops remain silent will the public be safe from the shameless manoevering of partisan political hacks determined to hide the truth:

"As officers you will have the responsibility of communicating to those below you that the American military must be nonpolitical and recognize the obligation we owe the Congress to be honest and true in our reporting to them, especially when it involves admitting mistakes or problems," said Gates, who has worked for seven presidents.

Only by refusing to listen to the military can we avoid being duped by party insiders who shamelessly abuse their positions for political gain:

Petraeus doesn't want to play politics. He tells friends that he doesn't vote in presidential elections, to maintain his political independence. In that, he emulates Gen. George Marshall, the architect of the Allied victory in World War II.

...The smartest thing Petraeus has done is to draw Congress into his confidence, as co-manager of the new strategy. In his testimony yesterday, he promised regular progress reports and pledged to tell Congress if he decides that the new strategy can't succeed. The flip side is that Petraeus will tell Congress whether he needs more troops, which may prove to be the case. Petraeus helped draft the new counterinsurgency field manual, which warns that successful operations "often require a high ratio of security forces to the protected population." It's hard to believe that 21,500 more troops will be enough to protect an Iraqi population in the midst of a civil war.

Thankfully, after the Swift Boating of John Kerry and Jack Murtha, most Americans know who is really on the side of the troops. Astonishingly, there are still a few unbiased experts willing to protect the public from unreliable firsthand reports from the front lines. In the end, the only trustworthy reports on the Surge will come, not from Iraq, but from Capitol Hill.

Many lawmakers will formulate their position on the basis of a coming report from Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the multinational force, to the president. Unfortunately, based on behavior in his last command in Iraq and the manner in which he received his current position, Petraeus is not a reliable source for an unbiased assessment.

On this weekend of remembrance, it is most fitting to recall who really protects America's beloved freedoms: Congress and the media.

Today, I want to encourage you always to remember the importance of two pillars of our freedom under the Constitution - the Congress and the press. Both surely try our patience from time to time, but they are the surest guarantees of the liberty of the American people.

With these two pillars of freedom bravely speaking out on behalf of our armed forces, there's no need for your inconvenient and superfluous opinions.

You needn't, for instance, give permission to be filmed while critically injured or dying. Never fear that your wife, eight year old son, or aged grandmother might stumble across that graphic video of you gasping out your last breaths as your buddies look on in horror. Who could fail to see that the closeup of your charred, bloodsoaked torso was meant as respectful "homage" to your sacrifice, a reverent sacrifice laid on the altar of America's all-consuming need to know?

Don't sweat it if, doped up on morphine, or writhing in agony from a leg blown off by an IED you scream, swear, whimper, say something embarrassing, or are caught sucking your thumb while half conscious. The New York Times has your back. They've decided that Not To See the Fallen Does You No Favor. Besides, if Britney Spears can share her most intimate moments with us surely human dignity is highly overrated. No less a person than Secretary Gates has reminded us: the press is the surest guarantor of our freedoms, and reasonable people do not object to having their freedom guaranteed, do they?

That would be political.

Given a blank freedom check by the Constitution, the Fourth Branch of Government impartially ensures an informed electorate. They enthusiastically support our foreign policy initiatives by repeatedly hyping sensationalistic torture photos from Abu Ghuraib while burying the misdeeds of our enemies. This important work is bolstered by giving millions of dollars in free publicity to the enemy despite evidence that more news coverage leads to increased violence and an upswing in the recruitment of terrorists. So committed are the media to maintaining a completely unbiased editorial 'voice' that they not only refuse to cover the accomplishments of our troops but actively subvert attempts by our government to spread the good news themselves.

These brave freedom fighters never stop protecting us. Whether it's their sacred right to defy grand jury investigations (first guaranteed by the landmark SC decision in Branzburg v. Hayes), to destroy evidence in terrorism investigations, to shield cop killers from justice citing nonexistent federal shield laws, or to publish classified national security memos, we can all breathe a bit easier knowing that professional journalists are the sturdy pillar upholding the rule of law.

So don't you dare question which side the press is on, or observe that unlike Congress or the President no one elected them and there seem to be no checks to balance their power; nor do the media brook any attempt to hold them accountable for the damage they do. The press, not the military, are the surest guarantors of our freedoms.

Likewise, when Senator Reid declares to all the world the war is lost before even a third of the Surge troops are in place, though he is neither your Commander in Chief nor the Secretary of State, nor is he even in Iraq (making it difficult at best for him to assess our progress) it is inappropriate for you to have an opinion on the matter. Certainly there are some who view Congress as public servants. There are even some who hold to the antiquated notion that Congress is merely one of three co-equal branches of government with a limited role defined by the Constitution; one which, oddly enough, does not include unilaterally surrendering to the enemy while our troops are in harm's way (especially without consulting the other 500-odd members of that august body).

Be that as it may, the very survival of our Republic demands you keep silent and allow various members of Congress to imply they are guaranteeing your freedom by shielding you from the enemy you volunteered to fight.

Remember, you fight so that others may dream of freedoms you must never be permitted.

So even if asked, do not presume to tell us what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether you think it is going well or going poorly. Let those far more capable than yourselves speak on your behalf.

Just shut up and fight. After all, the law says you must not be political.

Just shut up and die, so we can have peace in our time.


CWCID: photos, MaryAnn

Posted by Cassandra at May 29, 2007 06:45 AM

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Keep chipping away Cass, We'll get the bastards one of these days.

Posted by: unkawill at May 29, 2007 04:59 PM

I am fighting such a sense of loss; of sadness at failure not because we physically have lost but because so many people are saying it for political gain (which just makes it despicable).
Where will we be next year? I don't know.
Will we be allowed to win this war? I don't know.

It seems that our troops in the sandbox are carrying on in spite of what the jackasses in Congress are saying.
Our greatest generations spin in their graves watching this whoring going on.

In 43 years, there have only been a couple of days that I was ashamed to be an American...
I'm getting real close to another one now.

The one thing that I can fight for here tooth and nail is protecting, defending and supporting our wounded troops and their families.
To do otherwise would make me like those who shame me today. We owe those troops their right to dignity and privacy. It's okay for them to be vulnerable. They've earned the right to heal.
We don't have the right to watch it as if it were some kind of installment of a reality show.
We simply don't that right.

Those guys and gals have done their duty already.

Perhaps this is the call to arms for those of us who don't serve in a uniform. And I mean those of us who support our troops and their mission and also support the right of wounded and injured heroes to their privacy. And their families' right to not get horrible pictures and news off of the tv or the internet.
The right to privacy.
Imagine that.

Posted by: Carrie at May 29, 2007 05:03 PM

A lot of undignified things can happen to you when you are in pain. I can't imagine wanting to have a TV or still camera on me when I was delivering my two sons, or even immediately afterwards since both times I shook uncontrollably for about 3-5 minutes: the first time it was so bad I couldn't even hold my son in my arms - they had to prop me with pillows. That is just a reaction to pain and exhaustion. I didn't have anaesthesia either time, and while I dealt with the pain OK, I would have felt horribly self conscious if I'd had to worry about controlling my facial expressions on top of everything else that was going on.

And childbirth is a walk in the park compared to what these guys are going through. I can't imagine what makes the Times think it's OK to just start snapping away at these guys at such a vulnerable moment as though they were animals in a zoo.

And Carrie, don't be silly. If the Founders had wanted men to have a right to privacy, they'd have hidden one under Ruth Bader Ginsburg's penumbra.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2007 05:31 PM

I am so sick of these pontificating, sanctimonious gas bags (Rosie, call your office) constantly saying, purely as a prophylactic mantra to ward off a healthy and well deserved STFU, that they "support the troops," when what they really mean is they pity the poor, credulous children that were "lied into going to war."

Save your pity, Rosie. Our troops don't need or want it. Some day, if you and your ilk have your way, you will need it for yourself.

Posted by: Daveg at May 29, 2007 05:39 PM

Easy, girl. Easy, now.

Take heart in knowing that you are still thinking. Take pity on those who have surrendered their capacity to think for the quietude of mere agreement.

Why can't I just get along?

Just because.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 29, 2007 06:47 PM

"If the Founders had wanted men to have a right to privacy, they'd have hidden one under Ruth Bader Ginsburg's penumbra."

Hmm ... if there is no right to privacy, then what is your objection to cameras in the delivery room, on the battlefield, in the medic tent, etc?

And, FYI, it was Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis who early on considered whether there is a right to privacy [http://www.lawrence.edu/fast/boardmaw/Privacy_brand_warr2.html], followed, famously, by Justices William O. Douglas, Arthur Goldberg, John Marshall Harlan II and Byron White, in In Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=381&invol=479]

Posted by: An Incredulous Reader at May 29, 2007 07:30 PM

Someone can't comprehend sarcasm.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at May 29, 2007 07:36 PM

Legal rights, AIR, can be conferred by various means. Just because they aren't contained in the original text of the Constitution doesn't make them any less valid; it is merely a question of what law is cited when attempting to enforce them and what court one goes to when your right is violated.

Privacy concerns come up in a variety of cases that aren't related to search and seizure and may not involve a federal question. Defamation, libel, slander, breach of confidence (malpractice) are just a few I can think of off the top of my head.

And yes, that was a joke.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2007 07:56 PM

Uh, I know I had something I wanted to say here, but after reading An Incredulous Reader's comment I have been struck dumb. I'll try again later.

Posted by: Suds46 at May 29, 2007 08:04 PM

re: Why can't I just get along?

Daddy, why is the sky blue?

Regarding Griswold, that most treacherous of all slippery slopes in which the SCOTUS inexplicably found it necessary to crush a Connecticut gnat with a rolled up Constitution, Justice Black had this to say in US v. Katz:

Few things happen to an individual that do not affect his privacy in one way or another. Thus, by arbitrarily substituting the Court's language, designed to protect privacy, for the Constitution's language, designed to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Court has made the Fourth Amendment its vehicle for holding all laws violative of the Constitution which offend the Court's broadest concept of privacy. As I said in Griswold v. Connecticut, "The Court talks about a constitutional `right of privacy' as though there is some constitutional provision or provisions forbidding any law ever to be passed which might abridge the `privacy' of individuals. But there is not." I made clear in that dissent my fear of the dangers involved when this Court uses the "broad, abstract and ambiguous concept" of "privacy" as a "comprehensive substitute for the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against `unreasonable searches and seizures.'"

The Fourth Amendment protects privacy only to the extent that it prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of "persons, houses, papers, and effects." No general right is created by the Amendment so as to give this Court the unlimited power to hold unconstitutional everything which affects privacy. Certainly the Framers, well acquainted as they were with the excesses of governmental power, did not intend to grant this Court such omnipotent lawmaking authority as that. The history of governments proves that it is dangerous to freedom to repose such powers in courts.

And thus, little by little, is the power of the people to govern ourselves whittled away by nine men in robes as we sit idly by and do nothing.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2007 08:17 PM

I share your deep resentment about the press in this war.

Posted by: EssEm at May 29, 2007 09:37 PM

Black's words purport to lament the whittling away of the "power of the people to govern ourselves". What Black really laments is the relocation of the decision-making authority from the Statehouse to my house. Talk about the "nanny state" - sheesh! It is a peculiar person indeed who thinks that the Framers' ability (or not) to anticipate advances in chemistry should govern my choices in this area.

Posted by: An Incredulous Reader at May 29, 2007 09:44 PM

The decision making authority, in this case, was "relocated" from We The People, who could have amended the text of the Constitution had they so desired, to nine unelected and unaccountable men in robes who wrote into that document language which did not exist there.

Such a weighty decision with such powerful consequences should have been preceded by a national debate. In this case, it was not and a matter of State law was federalized citing shadowy "rights" not plainly identifiable nor clearly arising in the Constitution. When that happens, the rights of people to govern how they will live in their several localities have been abridged by the federal government. When a child is conceived, both parents arguably have an identifiable interest in its welfare, especially since the father incurs from the moment of conception an irrevocable legal responsibility to support that CHILD; a responsibility he cannot legally shirk and one, I might add that the mother DOES NOT SHARE since she may at any time choose to abort the child. In many jurisdictions courts are requiring men to pay child support even when DNA tests prove he is not even the father of the child and even when it has been proven the mother has cheated on him and/or deceived him as to the paternity.

One might think that since the law says the father bears a legal responsibility for the child's welfare, he ought to have some say in whether the child lives or dies.

"Not so", said the Court in its infinite wisdom.

From the mother's point of view, it is a clump of cells she may abort at any time and she has no legal duty whatsoever towards it.

From the father's point of view, if the mother wants to carry it to term it is a child and he is not only legally bound to support it but if HE tries to abort it, he is guilty of MURDER. Go figure. This is the ludicrous legal fiction Roe and Griswold have wrought.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2007 10:07 PM

And before you try to go all medieval on my arse, AIR, I'm still in the pro-"choice" camp (dear God I detest that term) -- just barely, holding my nose all the way.

I just don't deceive myself that abortion doesn't take a human life. It does.

I just want to see state governments making this law, not the federal government, and all of us living with the result. We should wrestle, honestly, with this difficult question - not let others decide it for us so we don't have to face what we are doing. It makes it far too easy.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2007 10:12 PM

And in yet another sad parallel between enemies foreign and domestic, our soldiers are expected to uphold civilized standards of conduct while their opponents remain inexplicably exempt.

The restraint, discipline, and valor required to uphold those standards is something their enemies will never know.

Posted by: MaryAnn at May 29, 2007 10:17 PM


I was attempting to make that point over at TH but alas! I was overcome by ennui and the sheer illogic of Screwy Hoolie.

Or was it anomie?

Or a wheel of brie? I get so confused sometimes....

Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2007 10:49 PM

"I just don't deceive myself that abortion doesn't take a human life. It does."

You're right: it does.

I've never understood why all the opposition to sex education and contraception - other than as another example of someone trying to force his or her view of morality onto other people. [people going all medieval on all of our arses]

Encouraging dissemination [npi] of information about the prevention of conception would seem to be one way [out of many] to reduce (or to whittle away at) the number of pregnancies that women might choose to abort. Why not make the prospective aborting mother have to watch a movie of an abortion being performed ...? It will turn the stomach of anyone other than the most hardened ....

"I just want to see state governments making this law, not the federal government"

I think a federal law outlawing abortion would not be out of order BUT there MUST be a reasonable and practical alternative that preserves people's rights in questions of reproduction. Take a look Jack Balkin's contribution to his collection of pieces called "What Roe v. Wade Should Have Said" for a discussion of the woman's role in all of this.

Make contraception and sex education available NO QUESTIONS ASKED to ANYBODY WHO REQUESTS IT, REGARDLESS OF AGE - if a person physically can reproduce, that person has a right NO QUESTIONS ASKED to full and complete information about sexual reproduction and prevention of same AND the means of prevention. PERIOD.

If we want to protect unborn life, then we have to be willing to support the effort. This may mean creation of "safe haven" drop off points where moms who've opted to have babies rather than abort can deliver the babies to protective custody NO QUESTIONS ASKED; maybe it means somehow having to support the moms who opt to have the babies rather than abort.

We still have a problem dealing with the person who's been raped.

Posted by: An Incredulous Reader at May 29, 2007 10:51 PM

"We still have a problem dealing with the person who's been raped"

I mean, weighing the right of the woman to be free of the burden of the pregnancy against the right of the baby not to be killed, and somehow compensating the woman, or mitigating her burden.

Posted by: An Incredulous Reader at May 29, 2007 10:54 PM


Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2007 10:59 PM

Great idea, lets support the troops by bringing them home. Then we can support them close-up, while they fight the Jihadists in our subways and shopping malls. Even better, the nightly body count here at home will keep the body count in Iraq off the front pages, so we won't have to go back.

Posted by: Navigator at May 30, 2007 10:26 AM

and now for something (sort of)completely different ...

"The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with 'normal life.' Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil... turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes.


"Thus we may have a duty to rescue a drowning man and, perhaps, if we live on a dangerous coast, to learn lifesaving so as to be ready for any drowning man when he turns up. It may be our duty to lose our lives in saving him. But if anyone devoted himself to lifesaving in the sense of giving it his total attention -- so that he thought and spoke of nothing else and demanded the cessation of all other human activities until everyone had learned to swim -- he would be a monomaniac. The rescue of drowning men is, then, a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for."

-- C. S. Lewis ("Learning in War-Time", in The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses)

Posted by: An Incredulous Reader at May 30, 2007 01:50 PM

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