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February 23, 2009

Sorry, But My Husband Is Not A "Tool of the Nation-State"

And the fact that his salary is paid by your tax dollars (and mine too) does not reduce him to the status of a publicly owned commodity. Of all the morally bankrupt arguments for a morally bankrupt policy, this surely must be the worst: "Sorry, but our 'need' trumps your grief."

Simply put: public need trumps common decency.

It trumps compassion.

Their need to know easily discoverable facts no one has been being blocked from discovering is more important than the prospect of causing additional pain to families who have already made the ultimate sacrifice because you see, it's really all about you.

Your convenience.

Your curiosity.

Your feeling that this war would feel so much more "immediate"; that you'd "understand" if you're allowed to trample on the sensibilities of those who defend your freedoms. It's not difficult to track the growing cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every major news outlet features its own roll call of the dead complete with pictures. Many mention the cumulative death toll during each and every broadcast.

Since the beginning of the war the military has bent over backwards to allow the press to embed with combat units, though the press seem strangely uninterested in availing themselves of the freedom they demanded so vociferously:

When the U.S. invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, there were anywhere between 570 and 750 embedded journalists, depending on the source. (The lower figure comes from Sig Christenson. a senior military writer for the San Antonio-Express News and president of Military Reporters & Editors. The higher estimate is from the Pentagon).

Those numbers began to fall precipitously once Saddam Hussein’s government was overcome by coalition forces in April 2003. By late fall of that year, the total number had dropped to roughly 100, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told PEJ.

And the downward trend has only accelerated since. In 2005, there were 48 embedded reporters in Iraq. The latest tally from the Pentagon is that just 26 embeds remain on the ground and Christenson told PEJ he believes the current number could be as low as nine.

The press, too, are already perfectly free to write anything they wish to about each fallen soldier or Marine. What better way to put a human face on the war than to remind us that each son and daughter, each husband or wife we lose was once a person, just like us? Yet oddly, the press don't seem interested in telling us about how fallen soldiers and Marines lived. They don't spend much time reminding us of the human cost of war.

They could. But they aren't interested. They weren't interested in writing about PFC Chance Phelps, though the story offered great insight into what the press eagerly term a "secretive" process that "hides" the cost of war. If they've been prevented from knowing these "secrets", why didn't the media jump at the opportunity to show the public what they supposedly have a right to know? Google his name and you'll find almost no major newspapers or media outlets covering this moving story even now that it has been made into a movie. How many major newspapers cover Silver Star or Medal of Honor recipients? If they are so interested in "honoring the dead", what possible excuse can they have for failing to bring us the inspiring stories of her fallen heroes?

The truth is that the media are only interested in military casualties when covering them furthers their anti-war agenda or appeals to sensationalistic interests. The press don't view the military as real people with real families and they have no desire to "honor" us, much less help America feel sympathy or compassion for our grief. If they did the media would treat us the same way they treat their own, with the same consideration and kindness they afforded to Jill Carroll and her family when she was kidnapped. When one of their own was put at risk doing a job she volunteered for, the press thought it absolutely vital to shield Ms. Carroll and her family from untoward media scrutiny and publicity. When it's a military person in the media spotlight though, suddenly these lofty concerns no longer apply.

The press, like much of America, seem to feel they "own" the military. There is no limit to their "right" to intrude upon our most private moments, our most agonizing grief. For these people, the existence of previous abuses excuses future outrages and the end always justifies the means:

What a shame that Zoriah is not able to put himself in the shoes of this dead Marine's family; that in his quest to persuade the world that war is wrong/bad, a dead United States Marine and his grieving family stopped being human beings and became useful tools; the too-convenient means that justify an end. What he and so many other journalists will never understand is that this is why they are not allowed to photograph the coffins of dead U.S. service men and women, nor to make spectacles of their private family funerals.

We do not exist to allow them to persuade America to leave Iraq and Afghanistan. We are human beings. Leave us some dignity, and the space and privacy to mourn our dead.

Have some elemental human respect for our opinions, even if you do not share them. Your "right" to oppose the war does not outweigh our right to support it, nor the other fundamental rights other Americans take for granted every single day. An American citizen should not forfeit his dignity, nor your respect, simply because he wears the uniform of his country. And more fundamentally no human being: be he or she Iraqi, Afghani, American, insurgent or coalition member in this war should have to worry about having a surviving family member stumble upon graphic images of his corpse upon the Internet simply because some adherent of the pro- or anti-war movement lacks the words to make a compelling, coherent and rational argument in support of their position. If you have an argument to make, do so in words, and under your own name. Back it up with logic and facts rather than relying upon fear and shock to override the cerebral cortexes of your carefully chosen victims. Don't draft the dead and their grieving families as unwilling conscripts in your obscene little information war.

My husband is not a "tool". The very suggestion is obscene and dehumanizing and the media's willingness to dispense with his humanity only underscores the need to protect military families from vultures who have no respect for their dignity or their grief, even when they voluntarily cooperate with the press:

The Tenth Circuit has affirmed a lower court decision granting summary judgment on the following claims: "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count 1); Invasion of Privacy (Count II)...Violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 839.1 (Count III); Fraudulent /False Misrepresentation (Count IV); Constructive Fraud, Fraud and Deceit (Count V); Unjust Enrichment (Count VI); and Negligent Hiring, Retention, and Supervision (Count VII)"against defendants Harper's Magazine Foundation and photographer Peter Turnley for publication of a deceased soldier in his casket.

The family had allowed media to attend the funeral but "did not want anyone taking pictures of Sgt. Brinlee's open casket, and they did not want to be interviewed." Nevertheless Mr. Turnley, a renowned photographer, attended the service, took photographs, and later published one along with similar ones as part of a photo-essay entitled "The Bereaved, Mourning the Dead, in America and Iraq" in Harper's Magazine in August 2004.

When literally thousands of Americans have already died in Iraq and Afghanistan, photographing the casket of any individual soldier (or even groups of soldiers) conveys no information that could not just as easily be conveyed by other means. The Supreme Court upheld this shameful decision, though of course when the press wanted to publish images of another public servant - a civilian - who was paid with our tax dollars, they were outraged at the affront to common decency:

Vince Foster, deputy counsel to President Clinton, was found shot to death on a parkway just east of the capital. It appeared to be suicide. Half a dozen investigators agreed that it was suicide. Doubt nevertheless persisted. Demands continued for new disclosures. Finally a Freedom of Information petition led to Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion for a unanimous court, upholding the family's residual right to privacy.

That right, said Kennedy, "extends to the memory of the deceased held by those tied closely to him by blood or love." Photos of Foster's bloody corpse could be suppressed if they "could be reasonably expected to contribute to an unwanted invasion of privacy." Members of Foster's family were entitled to refuge "from a sensation-seeking culture."

Kennedy added: "We have little difficulty in finding in our own case law and traditions the right of family members to direct and control disposition of the body of the deceased and to limit attempts to exploit pictures of the deceased's family member's remains for public purposes."

Moreover, "Family members have a personal stake in honoring and mourning their dead and objecting to unwanted public exploitation that, by intruding upon their own grief, tends to degrade the rites and respect they seek to accord to the deceased person who was once their own."

When a civilian was the subject of the media's obscene quest for sensationalistic images, a unanimous Court upheld the age-old principle that some things - such as the grief of bereaved families - still deserve our respect. Arguing that past failures to observe this principle somehow justify future abuses glosses over the moral implications. Two wrongs, these people argue, make them right.

After all, your tax dollars give you the right to use our grief and images of our dead family members as you wish.

Would you meekly submit to this treatment? Of course not. But then you're human, aren't you? Different standard. If anything must be reckoned as a tragic cost of war, surely it is the cynical willingness to inflict pain on those who have already given so much: a willingness transparently justified by some twisted notion of public need. "Just give us more of yourselves", you promise, "and then we'll really begin to care."

"Just let the media into your most private and painful moments. You can trust them to be respectful."

Excuse me if I don't believe that. The only honest thing being said in support of the quest to end the media ban is that the press want to use images of our military dead to make an argument.

This is not "news" - it's political advocacy, and dead soldiers and Marines are not tools, they are real people with real families. There was a time when most people understood that certain things were off limits. The willingness of so many to cynically argue that expediency ought to trump humanity even when many other means exist to accomplish the same end must be reckoned the saddest human cost of war.

Posted by Cassandra at February 23, 2009 08:17 AM

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Posted by: Carrie at February 23, 2009 10:57 AM

Your passion is obvious. That your position is right is even more obvious. I hope your essays on this point get widely read. They could carry the day to the extent that the President is thinking of doing the wrong thing.

Posted by: KJ at February 23, 2009 11:04 AM

Welcome to the culture war. I like the reference to Remagen and the "Bridge too Far". I think with the Dover push the progressives just went "A Bridge too Far" and provided us with an appropriate rallying point. Something along the lines of "It's Over in Dover" comes quickly to mind.

Time to stand up and be counted. We are in the right, we are professionals, we have discipline, and we have the numbers. I believe the progressives crossed the line on this one.

Gives new meaning to the otherwise empty phrases of "We are the one's we have been waiting for" and "Change we can believe in!" The momentum is on our side. After Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto famously understated the effects of the bombing; "I am afraid we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."

What was it that Patton said? "These people know less about waging war than they do about fornicating?" or words to that effect.

Posted by: vet66 at February 23, 2009 11:30 AM

"Sorry, but our 'need' trumps your grief."

"Sorry, but your imagined need trumps *nothing*."

Posted by: BillT at February 23, 2009 01:38 PM

Sorry Bub.

My time is valuable.

Even though I can easily know the cost of war by simply listening to the constant reminders in the news every single day, yanno it's really kind of boring and I forget to pay attention.

I need something to grab me by the shirt collar and force me to FOCUS! And when the coffin images lose their effectiveness (if they ever had any to people too lazy and disinterested to pay attention to what's right in front of their noses) I'll ask for more graphic reminders.

Because, you know, I have a right. I pay my taxes.

Posted by: Joe Sixpack at February 23, 2009 01:45 PM

Variant of "...but we were never *asked* to sacrifice!":

"Waaah! No one MADE us pay attention to the cost of war!"

Posted by: Joe Sixpack, ADD Nation at February 23, 2009 01:47 PM

"Waaah! No one MADE us pay attention to the cost of war!"
Well, in all humility I'll admit to having a little length of 2x4 handy. A vernier adjust tool for those inattentive or conceptually challenged souls needing a spatial phase alignment tweak.

This 2x4 tweaker can also be used to render life saving first aid to RCI sufferers while allowing the aid giver to maintain a safe distance from the infected.

Posted by: bthun at February 23, 2009 02:08 PM

The old "Attention Getter!"

Batter up!

Funny stuff!

Posted by: vet66 at February 23, 2009 02:13 PM

Cass, I hate to trouble people who have already sacrificed so much, but it seems to me that the obvious way to stop this is for a group of people whose sons and daughters have come home at Dover to write President Obama (with a copy to the media) and ask that it not be done.

Posted by: RonF at February 23, 2009 02:25 PM

Let 'em go on Oprah and talk about their 'needs.'
I know, I am a sick puppy.
Excellent one, Cassandra.

Posted by: Cricket at February 23, 2009 02:52 PM

This 2x4 tweaker...

In my circles, it's sometimes referred to as a "clue-by-four"...

Posted by: BillT at February 23, 2009 03:14 PM

I'm with Cricket.
Let them go jump on Oprah's couch.
Worked wonders for Tom Cruise, didn't it?

Posted by: Nicole Kidman at February 23, 2009 03:43 PM

I am the proud Wife and Mom of US Marines. My 19 year old son is a Machine Gunner in Afghanistan who has had two of his best friends pass through Dover over the last 6 weeks or so -- I will forward this to every person I know and ask them to do the same in the hopes that NONE of these heroes memories are exploited for the sake of anyone else's "need" to push their opinion of the war down America's throat. It's wrong - plain and simple, wrong.

Posted by: USMCMomAndWife at February 23, 2009 04:19 PM

My 19 year old son is a Machine Gunner in Afghanistan who has had two of his best friends pass through Dover over the last 6 weeks or so ...

I am so sorry.

I can remember a time, before this war, when I could have read a statement like that without crying. I didn't "need" photos of some casket with a flag on it to change. What changed me was reading - and writing - about the lives of the young men and women we've lost.

A small part of us dies every time we lose another of our community.

I didn't need to invade anyone's privacy, nor intrude on their grief, to feel their pain. We just need to care enough to pay attention to what's already out there. And for those who are too lazy or busy to care, I have only one thing to say: sparing you a bit of exertion is not more important than protecting military families who have already suffered enough.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 23, 2009 04:42 PM

I am the proud Wife and Mom of US Marines.


They do make us proud, don't they? Marine women don't do too badly either :)

Thanks for commenting, and please pass our regards to your husband and son.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 23, 2009 04:47 PM

USMC mom and wife,

I'm glad you found VC and that you will forward it on in an effort to keep the ban in place. Thank you for doing that.

I am a Marine wife and mom too. My son deployed last year to Iraq. I am sorry that your son lost two best friends. I will keep you and your loved ones in my prayers.

Posted by: Carrie at February 23, 2009 05:00 PM

"They do make us proud, don't they?"

Every damn day.

Posted by: Carrie at February 23, 2009 05:02 PM

Well, there are those times when the Uniform of the (Satur)Day for the Honey-Do list includes a salmon-pink tank top, grey cut-off shorts, green socks and old Jungle boots......
Then there is a feeling there, I'm not sure what to call it, though.

Posted by: DL Sly at February 23, 2009 05:59 PM

You're *supposed* to wear green socks with jungle boots.


Posted by: BillT at February 23, 2009 06:16 PM

I call mine a Clue Bat. Get whacked with it, and you certainly get a clue.

Posted by: kbob in katy at February 24, 2009 05:17 PM