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February 12, 2009

More on the Soldiers' Coffins Issue

DaveM has a good piece up:

The death of a warrior many times becomes a media event, primarily because the warrior is well loved at home and many want to pay their respects to the fallen. They line the streets along the procession route to the final burial place and pack the churches, to pay their respects, but the arrival of a fallen warrior in Dover, or the local airport for the convenience of the family must always remain a private moment. The time to share in the mourning with the family is after they have had their time with their loved one, not before, and the farther we can keep the media and their uncontrollable adolescent hormones away the better.

My questions to the media executives who want this policy over turned is:

To what purpose do you need to view and photograph the fallen warriors even before the family is able to grasp the finality of the situation?

And in light of the fact that as an industry you are revered right there alongside the proverbial used car sales man: What are you going to do to ensure that you honor the wishes of the family?

When a family says no, are you honestly expecting us to believe that you are going to honor their wishes?

I decided this morning not even to go into the logistical issues involved with gaining consent from the families and why this is so wrong. Suffice it to say I don't trust a press that can't even look up irrelevant "details" like the difference between an officer and an enlisted man or between the Army and the Marine Corps to be diligent enough to ensure it was the authorized family member who consented and quite frankly I don't trust an already overburdened military bureaucracy either. Mistakes happen all the time but once an image is out there, there is no calling it back. There are no 'do-overs'.

When a family member takes the time to contact the media, there's little doubt of their intent and though they may later come to regret letting the media have access (and some have), it was clearly their decision. Burdening families still in shock from the death of a loved one with a potentially contentious request (how many stories have we seen where one parent welcomes press coverage and the other wants to avoid it?) doesn't strike me as particularly compassionate or caring. I've actually been there at the moment a wife was informed her husband was dead. I've had to sit with families and children as they heard that awful news, and for the weeks and months afterwards as they struggled with the painful, contradictory, and often overwhelming emotions bereavement brings.

Not everyone is thinking straight in the moments or days right after they learn their loved one isn't coming back. Emotions run high. Families can and often do argue, and let's not forget that many families are split these days so there's already tension in the air. And now we want to introduce yet another painful and difficult decision into an already bewildering process?

Why? Because these families haven't given enough already?

Again, if families want press coverage, nothing prevents them from requesting it. There are no restrictions on coverage outside of the actual transport and arrival of the bodies. But most are already grief stricken and conflicted about decisions like whether to travel to Dover to greet the body, when and where to have the funeral, and there are a million financial and practical decisions they need to make at a time when they're still reeling from the bad news. To add to that burden, if they choose to travel up to meet the body now we want cameras shoved in their faces because without photographic evidence that duplicates the hundreds of photos already out there, we can't fully appreciate the cost of war?

Go read a book, America. Watch a movie. Better yet, volunteer your time to help a wounded vet or a bereaved family. But don't burden grieving wives and parents because you're too lazy to pick up a newspaper and read about the boring war.

Posted by Cassandra at February 12, 2009 03:02 PM

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I came across a woman weeping over the silent body of her son. He was garbed in style of a warrior, and from his injuries I could see that he had plainly fallen in battle.

"Why do you weep, mother?" I asked. "Has not your son given his all for his King?"

"I do not weep, good sir, for my son." she replied. "I weep for the King."

Posted by: spd rdr at February 12, 2009 06:05 PM

I don't mean to be tiresome on this issue, but this really frosts my cornflakes.

It's bad enough that we don't protect grievously wounded soldiers with even as much protection as a civilian patient gets from HIPAA. Now we won't even leave the dead in peace.

And to think some people see *me* as a monster.

Posted by: Moqtada al Sadr at February 12, 2009 07:13 PM

I think we need to ring in a change on an old saw:

"First thing we do, let's kill all the reporters".

Posted by: Obloodyhell at February 12, 2009 08:33 PM

What is it with you guys anyways? Always with the killing... :p

Seriously, there are many fine reporters out there. It's just that the ones who abuse their privileges give the rest a bad name. The reporter and photographer who did the Lt. Cathey story? That was fantastic work and a real tribute to the Marine Corps. It was also a credit to the journalism profession. Tony Perry at the LA Times is a stand-up guy without whom we'd never hear a lot of great stories.

Even that fool of a Crittenden is not too bad, for a city desk editor type :p

Posted by: Moqtada al-Sadr at February 12, 2009 08:54 PM

I will admit to not being too happy with Sec. Gates on this one. What the heck is he thinking?

It used to be that the one thing military families could count on was that even though we aren't in the military, the Pentagon generally recognized what we give up and supported us.

Apparently that has fallen by the wayside under Gates. I think less of him - a lot less - for caving to political pressure if that is what this is about, and for not thinking this through if he's trying to ram his personal opinions down the throats of military families.

I gave him a lot of credit when he said he was staying on under Obama for being a team player. If this is an example of what he really thinks, I am forced to revisit my assessment of the man, and not in a good way.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 12, 2009 09:00 PM