Monday, April 16, 2007

Do "the troops" = the war policy?

Bush: Only people who support my failed policies really support the troops

Our Dear Leader Bush addressed his subjects today, banging hard on how opposing his disastrous war policy in Iraq means opposing "the troops". As I've said here several times, I wish the Democrats had tried earlier to reframe the notion that putting conditions on war funding was failing to "support the troops in the field". The current face-off is likely to help do that, and hopefully it will. Congress passed funding for our troops in the field with a withdrawal deadline attached and Bush is threatening to veto the funding for "troops in the field".

There was something in Dear Leader's message today that particulary struck me:

We owe it to our men and women in uniform to give them the full support. It's important as people debate this issue to think about somebody like Merrilee Carlson, with us today. She's a Gold Star Mom. Two years ago, Merrilee's son, Michael, gave his life in Iraq when his platoon was on a night mission to take out two terrorist bomb-making factories. As they approached their target, they passed over a culvert that gave way, and their Bradley fighting vehicle plunged into the water and Michael and four others in the vehicle died that day.

Michael penned a high school essay before he joined the Army. This is what he wrote: "I want my life to account for something. Everyone eventually loses their life. I have only so much time. I want to fight for something, be a part of something greater than myself. I want to be a soldier or something of that caliber." He became a soldier, he gave his life for something greater than himself. And now his mom and dad have one just demand, and that is to make sure that Michael's sacrifice is not in vain.

We owe it to the Carlson family, we owe it to other Gold Star families here today, to complete the mission for which their loved ones gave their lives. We owe it to a future generation of Americans to help secure peace. We owe it to the American people tomake this nation safer. The most solemn obligation of the government and Washington is to provide security for the American people and to protect them from harm.
Bush had a number of veterans and military families there.

Here is the photo that the White House provided of the scene at its Web site:

Politicians of course have to tiptoe around things like this. But we all need to see this for what it is. There are soldiers and veterans who support the Iraq War, there are soldiers and veterans who oppose it. Merrilee Carlson lost her son in that war and she believes its important to support Bush's war policy. Cindy Sheehan lost her son in that war and she campaigns to put an end to it.

It's normal for people who have lost loved ones to adopt a "survivor's mission" of some sort. Some survivors of soldiers lost in war adopt a mission to cheer for the war. As Chris Hedges points out in War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, at some point in all wars, the dead already lost in the war become a justification for continuing the war in order to validate the earlier sacrifices. That very sentiment is a major reason that the opposing European nations in the First World War continued for years in a bloody war of attrition that was largely a catastrophe whose aftermath set the stage for wars to come: not just the Second World War, but even the current conflict in Iraq can be seen in some ways as a long-range result of Britain's decisions imposed on the former provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

Others may adopt a survivor's mission to oppose the war and end the killing, while others may find survivor's missions unrelated to the war. As a personal psychological coping mechanism, I don't know of any reason to think that one is any more valuable than the other.

But even though those who have endured the sacrifice of losing a family member will always have an emotional claim to respect in earning a hearing for their position, in the end their arguments about the war policy need to be judged on their merits. Because neither continuing the war nor ending it, honorably or otherwise, will bring Michael Carlson or Casey Sheehan or any of the other lost soldiers back to life.

And there is one way in which war critics are at a disadvantage to the war supporters when it comes to those who have lost family memmbers in the current wars. The Republicans haven't been shy about ridiculing, insulting, sneering at and trying in various ways to discredit Cindy Sheehan. I would be very surprised if we see such attacks on Merrilee Carlson from major liberal opinion journals and Web sites or the kind of bloggers we normally quote here.

That doesn't mean that Merrilee Carlson should get a completely free pass from reasonable scruntiny of his political positions. Carlson is president of a group Bush mentioned in his speech,
Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission. As of this writing, the Web page authomatically plays a video and audio of her that starts with her saying, "I get frustrated and, and a little bit angry, mostly when our own people are negative." She starts her prowar pitch, in other words, with expressing frustration and anger at her fellow citizens.

There is also a blog at the Web site. Carlson's name is listing along with several others as participating in the blog, though most posts there at this writing seem to be from her. On 04/15/07, she posted a letter from a woman named Debbie Lee (the blog doesn't seem to allow links to individual posts), who wrote:

This letter is a call to action to the silent majority in America. It is a dangerous time in the history of our country and we can no longer quietly sit back on our apathetic rears and hope that someone else will speak for us, or that someone else will make a difference. Many Americans have listened to the lies of the liberal media and have adopted a defeated attitude that they can't make a difference. (my emphasis)
Recounting how her son was killed in Ramadi, Iraq, Lee writes:

Many people have commented to me, "the terrorists took your son's life that day." The terrorists didn't "take" my sons life, Marc willingly "gave" his life. ... As a single parent, raising 3 small children became overwhelming attimes, and I didn't have all of the answers. At times I didn't have any of the answers. When my children would come to me with tough decisions to be made, I knew I didn't know everything, but I had learned that I did know the one who did. God promises to be a husband to the widow and a father to the fatherless and my children had often heard me tell them to "Go ask your Father." They knew that meant to spend some time with their Heavenly Father. They knew that He loved them so much he had sent his son who willingly "gave" his life so that they could spend an eternity with Christ. Marc was confident in where his final destination would be. Marc was just following in His Daddy's footsteps when he gave his life for you and I. Jesus Christ and the American GI are the only ones I know who were willingly to die for us. Shouldn't we be willing to live for them? (my emphasis)
This is certainly the language of a survivor's mission. But her letter doesn't give us any good reasons that I can see why it's a good idea for more Americans to die in this war, just vague references to terrorists and 9/11. That may sound harsh or unkind, but other people's lives are at stake as well. And the damage the war is doing to the US position in the world is real. She continues:

The media, Hollywood and the liberal's [sic] want us to believe that we are failing in Iraq. They have made it their "political agenda" to change the world, they want the spotlight, they want to be in control. They want it to be "all about them," and are trying to figure out how they can use this for their gain. Look at Nancy Pelosi, she makes a "publicity" trip to Syria despite Whitehouse objections. Then, she acts as though she is representing the Nation that told her not to go and promises President Assad that there is an alternative Democratic foreign policy. Talk about political agenda! Only the President has that constitutional authority! Sounds like treason to me and grounds for an impeachment. How self centered and ridiculous is that! Isn't this about HERE AND NOW! We must remain united and not let the Nancy Pelosi's and Cindy Sheehan's speak for the minority of America! (my emphasis)
So much for respecting the grief of family members of soldiers killed in war. Calling Nancy Pelosi and traitor is just sleaze, period. That's probably a Freudian slip in that last sentence, "We must ... not let the Nancy Pelosi's and Cindy Sheehan's speak for the minority of America!" And, indeed, her point of view on the war is very much a minority point of view now. (I would also not that "culture warriors" use "Hollywood" as a synonym for "the Jews".)

Others of Carlson's posts include a notice about presentation from the rightwing Federalist Society (04/01/07) and this 03/30/07 post about "Brotherhood" relating her experiences at a prowar rally on March 17 in Washington:

Upon seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of the antiwar group gathered just across the mall from our group; it was VietNam era warmed over. Youngsters either too young to understand or care, led by gray headed Hanoi Jane supporters of the sixties gathered once again. The signs and slogans were just as meaningless and silly as they were back in the day.

It has occurred to me that for such a position to have the support of anyone, they would have to be ignorant of the truth. Strictly political opposition would be another motivation for support of the antiwar position, hence, the absurd bills being circulated in the congress.

The antiwar group and the mainstream news media have not changed since VietNam era. ... There is no way that the “support our troops” and, the antiwar sentiment, can exist in the same thought. It is like the now famous “I voted for it until I voted against it”...
The latter, of course, being a reference to Republican attacks on John Kerry.

She also links to a Michelle Malkin video (03/25/07) and to a clip of Carlson herself appearing on Chris Matthews' Hardball (04/10/07).

Marilee Carlson 01/17/06 (from the Families United Web site)

According to this interview Carlson gave to the Soldiers Angels milblog over a year ago,
Interview With Merrilee Carlson from Midwest Heroes 03/01/06, it was to oppose Sheehan's protest that she first became involved in prowar activism:

In August 2004, a vocal minority was making noise in Texas about the need to pull our troops out of Iraq. The media picked this up and blasted it around the world saying Gold Star moms wanted the troops brought home. Being a Gold Star mom [mother of a soldier killed in action], the honor of my son compelled me to find a way to speak out in support of our troops and the completion of their mission.
She also gave her notion of how press coverage of the war should be handled:

It is important that these [prowar] voices be heard. We constantly hear the cost of the war, soldiers lost, destruction, insurgent attacks but this is only one side of the story. We wish to encourage the media to tell more of the positive stories that talk about the rebuilding of lives in Iraq, of freedoms gained, schools built. We would hope that they would tell a balanced broadcast - if there is an attack - counter it with a success story. We understand that you cannot balance everything - there is no way to balance the death of a soldier with anything but the story of the pride and honor with which they served.
I wonder if our press corps will mention in their news articles that Carlson is a prominent prowar spokesperson and the president of an organization that espouses hard right views. Those are relevant pieces of information, especially since the President has prominently singled her out as a preferred representative of military families.

Another consideration on this that I'll mention, one I'm sure Bush and Rove and Cheney don't care one whit about, is that there is something unseemly about the President surrounding himself with military families on the occasion of making a political pitch over a key policy issue like this.

The US President is not only head of government but also head of state, two roles that are separated in many other democracies. In Britain and Spain, for instance, the crown is the head of state, the prime minister the head of government. In Germany and Austria, the president is the head of state and the prime minister head of government. And since the US President is the head of state, I think there's something inappropriate about him featuring military families who support his political policies in a privileged way like this. The head of state should be maintaining a less partisan stance when it comes to honoring the sacrifices of soldiers and their families' losses.

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