During all the stir about the Cindy Sheehan story, I started wondering: is there a historical precedent for this? I recall stories of letters from Abraham Lincoln to mothers who lost their sons, but that’s pretty much it.
When the Sheehan story was being batted around on a talk show last week, a World War II veteran called in. He said during that war, death notices were sent by telegram, often given to a taxi driver. And if the recipient was alone at the time, the cabbie was to remain there until the notice had been read.
But times change, conventions change, public mores change. That tradition was set aside, replaced with uniformed officers and chaplains delivering the grim tidings. But more importantly, the death rates declined to the point where it was actually practical to spare the manpower needed to carry out those duties.
And now, with President Bush, a new tradition is evolving. He regularly meets (out of the public eye) with the families of those who have lost loved ones in the War. He grieves with them, extends the thanks of a grateful nation, and assures them that their loss is not unnoted or unappreciated.
Now comes Mrs. Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq. She met with the President once, and was appreciative at the time. But now she wants a second meeting with him, to wave her son’s bloody shirt in his face and demand we pull out of Iraq, that Israel pull out of Palestine (which, I presume, means that Israel cease to exist, because the Palestinians claim ALL of Israel), and — oh yeah — he resign his office. For the full details, see here.
(While this would have the benefit of making Dick Cheney president, and therefore killing Helen Thomas, I really don’t think that would be worth it.)
Mrs. Sheehan and her supporters (which seem to represent a pretty broad cross-section of the Moonbat Loony Left) cite her son’s death as the price she has paid for her audience with the president. Since she sacrificed her own flesh and blood, the least he can do is look her in the eye and let her speak her mind, right?
Well, no. Buried among all the passion and pain and outrage are a few flawed assumptions and misjudgments.
1) Mrs. Sheehan did not sacrifice her son. She lost him; he sacrificed himself. Casey Sheehan, as a free adult American, voluntarily enlisted in the military, and then re-upped when he had the chance to leave.
2) President Bush did not kill Casey Sheehan. He was killed by terrorists. To say otherwise is to diminish their responsibility, to cheapen their evil.
3) President Bush’s vacation isn’t a real vacation, like the year-long one John Kerry took from his Senate duties to come in second for president. He has the same duties he does in Washington, but with a few more comforts of his own home. He’s talking with people, holding meetings, signing papers, and in general doing exactly what he would be doing in Washington — minus the symbolic crap and with fewer interruptions, balanced out by time for some recreation.
Finally, the big issue: does the President of the United States owe a meeting to the mother of a US service member killed in the line of duty? I think not.
Yesterday, I wrote a satirical piece outlining a similar (fictitious) scenario during World War II. The point I was trying to make was that it is simply impossible for a president to do such things at a time of war. I can think of but one previous example when a president did such a thing — Ronald Reagan meeting with the grieving families of US Marines killed in the barracks bombing by a Hezbollah suicide bomber.
I think that was the right thing for Reagan to do, but largely because it was the Terms Of Engagement that his administration had ordered that permitted the attack to be so successful. The guards’ weapons were unloaded, and by the time they loaded them, the truck had already hit the building.
On the other hand, when US Army Rangers were killed and mutilated in Mogadishu in the now-infamous “Blackhawk Down” incident, I don’t recall President Clinton meeting with those families to extend his sympathies, despite it was his refusal to allow the US forces in Somalia (for reasons that never quite stood up to scrutiny) to have adequate armor and reinforcements. But while I think it would have been right for Clinton to do so, I won’t condemn him for it.
So far, Bush has followed the Reagan model, but on a quieter, more personal level. Reagan’s single meeting was televised; Bush’s numerous meetings are often not mentioned at all. But does he have a further responsibility? Is he obligated to honor Mrs. Sheehan’s demands?
I think not. I’m going to quote a rather good novel here. The captain of a US warship is beating herself up over the loss of a crewman in combat, after she promised him that she’d bring him home. She is rebuked by one of her officers:
“Begging the Captain’s pardon, but that was a promise you damn well didn’t have the right to make! This is a warship in the service of the United States of America. You do not have the right to promise any of us a round-trip ticket! What you do have the right to do is to expend our lives like rounds of ammunition, if necessary, to get the job done.”
That’s the way it is for every military leader, from a PFC up to the Commander In Chief. And that’s the way it has to be, or we might as well just give up fighting entirely and just surrender.
Mrs. Sheehan says that “(y)ou get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you’ll stop the terrorism.” But the terrorism started long before we went into Iraq, or Afghanistan, or even before the first Gulf War. And Israel is already pulling out of Gaza, accompanied by glowing threats of continued “resistance” (I guess that’s the Arabic word for “terrorism”).
Mrs. Sheehan’s family has already expressed its wishes that she would simply give up her newfound fame as the trophy of the moonbat left and come home to them. I hope she listens to them, and soon.