OpEdNews: Cindy Sheehan: The Human Face of A Nation at War

Cindy Sheehan: The Human Face of A Nation at War

This isn’t about politics, it’s about grief. It’s about a growing group of ordinary citizens trying to teach this callous cowboy how to care,even as he bikes away his worries while the families of the 46 soldiers killed in the month of August alone attend funerals.

by Lilian Friedberg


One sorely neglected aspect of the Cindy Sheehan story concerns public expression of mourning. Ronald Reagan’s death called for an entire week of public mourning, and myriad other instances of public mourning in response to the death of a single individual mark the landscape of recent US-history: the death of John Lennon in 1980, of John Kennedy Jr. in 1999, of Christopher Reeve in 2004, Pope John Paul II earlier this year, and most recently, of ABC news anchor Peter Jennings. Public mourning in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombings, the Challenger and Columbia disasters and the 9/11 attacks was widespread, fuelled in large part by a veritable carpet-bombing of memorials delivered to our living rooms by the corporate media. All of us took time out of our busy schedules to mark the tragedies in public displays of despair, and the effect was cathartic, a necessary step in the process of “moving on”.

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.

To forbid Americans from witnessing the final homecoming of the dead from the Iraq War is a callous, low-minded act of audio-visual doublethink. The banishment from sight of our war dead blots out what should be a searing memory.

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:

We are living on the home front of a war. Yet many people do not seem to understand that lives are being sacrificed daily in their names, in the name of their country, for them -- because the ceremonies due the dead for their sacrifice are hidden.

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 war—hers 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, I’m-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 it’s not there because I’m a stark-raving left wing lunatic radical; it’s not there as a statement of anti-war protest. It’s 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. Bush’s 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 man’s face—which 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. Bush’s 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 there’s more to the yellow ribbons and white crosses than dryasdust drivel and publicity stunts!

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