Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Good Question

CNN reporter Ed Henry asked a good question of President Obama at Monday's press conference:

HENRY: [T]here's a Pentagon policy that bans media coverage of the flag-draped coffins from coming into Dover Air Force Base. And back in 2004, then-Senator Joe Biden said that it was shameful for dead soldiers to be, quote, snuck back into the country under the cover of night.

You've promised unprecedented transparency, openness in your government. Will you overturn that policy, so the American people can see the full human cost of war?

OBAMA: ... Now with respect to the policy of opening up media to loved ones being brought back home, we are in the process of reviewing those policies in conversations with the Department of Defense. So I don't want to give you an answer now, before I've evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved.
That's a poor answer to a good question. The insulting excuses need to stop and the veil needs to be lifted. The US and its military successfully weathered the Nazis, the Japanese, the Soviet Union, and its proxies without hiding body bags from journalists. If the sight of body bags is too vexing for public relations, then the war that causes them is too grandiose for public policy.


Sis B said...

Before I married my husband, I completely agreed with you on this.

But at this point, in the event of the worst (god in whom i don't believe forbid), I want to be the first one to see his coffin come off the plane, in person, and not on a news program. Just like I want to be notified that there's been an incident in our unit by my unit and not the news (although I've seen several things come out before we are notified, before the families are notified).

I've been thinking about this for several days, realizing that my position has completely changed. At this point, I don't give a rat's ass about the political implications of seeing or not seeing flag draped coffins. I care about our families who are already suffering, who have already given so much to the country. I kind of feel like America doesn't have the right to see them before their families do.

Interestingly enough, I had another feed today addressing this, from the perspective of a father who lost his son in Iraq. I was interested to find that his thoughts so closely echoed my own, given that he has been through the worst and I haven't.

I have to say I don't think Obama gave a wrong answer here, and he seems to understand the greater implications by calling the fallen "loved ones".

Dale said...

Sis B, I appreciate your thoughts on this and I absolutely recognize that you have more "skin in the game" than I do.

What I would absolutely not want is for anyone killed in combat to be photographed in a way that leaves them personally identifiable without the explicit permission of the family. I would not want even names (or other details) assigned to caskets.

But with respect to you and to the father (whose piece I did read), I think we have gone far too far in making war "yours" and not far enough in showing how it is "ours." Soldiers in uniform fight and sacrifice for all of us, and when they die, they have died for all of us. They have died for us whether we're honest enough to face it or not.

This can't be allowed to be exclusively a burden for the friends and families directly affected. Down that road lives the casual, lazy, flag-waving, yellow-ribbon-on-the-SUV form of war, the kind of war that's always someone else's problem and abstracted from most people's daily life, as if it's a cable channel we can choose to watch or ignore.

It's not a cable channel. It is actual human beings whose lives are in the balance. We need to see that. Many people will choose to avert their eyes, but that should not be made easy.

Sis B said...

Those are really good points, and ones that have stuck in my mind as I sort out this issue as well.

I need to think about this a bit more, but I still don't like the idea of it being made into a spectacle, you know? I completely agree that Americans do need to see the cost, but I'm not sure that this is the way to do it.

I'll be back.

Dale said...

Sis, I welcome further thoughts on it. I do not claim to have worked it all out perfectly -- far from it.

It's not hard to imagine this becoming a really horrible spectacle. Our present-day news media is excellent at finding ways to turn diamonds to shit and then smearing it all over us. This we know.

I promise to keep my mind open about it.