Honorable Dead

January 2005


Every day, in every newspaper, on every radio station and television station, we hear accounts of our gallant fallen heroes. Dead men's tales from Iraq and Afghanistan. We see them there because we pay PR people in the Defense Department to place these daily stories into the press. It is a form of advertising that we taxpayers pay for. And it makes me sick -- not because the stories are untrue, but because the deaths of these brave young people are being used for a purpose unconnected to their sacrifice.

Just about every morning, the clock radio wakes me with some dramatic story of self-sacrifice, bravery and loss. Johnny, David, Peter, Mary or Andrew dies in some heroic fashion in Iraq or Arghanistan. Sometimes we hear the passionate remembrances of comrades or the stoic chronicles of people who found pieces of the dead hero. Each one of these stories has some very important things in common: each was written by a professional writer paid from our tax dollars and each story was provided to the press free of charge, complete with photos, film clips or whatever else will make the dissemination of the story easiest and cheapest.

I am not saying that the stories are untrue. The tragedy in these stories is as real as the pain and grief of their families for the children they will never see again. What I object to is what is missing from every single story. It is missing by deliberate purpose. Its absence turns each story from honest journalism into venal advertising. What is missing is any question or discussion about why this young hero needed to die. We don't ask what purpose was being served for this person to have made this noble sacrifice.

When firemen go into a burning building, we don't ask why. We assume we know why. When firemen die in burning buildings, we ask tough questions and demand to know why they died. Firemen are not supposed to have to die in fires anymore. We look at their deaths from every angle. Were all nine dead firemen black in a fire department with only 5 percent black firemen? Were all the dead firemen officials of the firefighters' union? We question these deaths very carefully and try to eliminate any possible dishonorable reason for these peoples' honorable sacrifice.

When soldiers die, they just die. Soldiers are supposed to die in combat and there is nothing unusual or strange about that. We may question why soldiers are still dying more than a year after the commander-in-chief declared that all major hostilities were ended and all major war aims accomplished. But that is just a political detail.

No, when I hear about Betty, Tom or Martin's death, I want his or her death justified. I want the commentator to explain to me why this person needed to die -- what purpose this person's ultimate sacrifice served. And I don't want generalities and platitudes about defending democracy and making America safer. I want to know what this person's unit was doing and why. I want to know why the sniper, suicide bomber or other combatant wanted to kill this American serving in their country. And on the back of that justification, I want to see a discussion about what is actually being done to ensure that this soldier is the last brave soldier who will have to die in this way.

There ought to be a law prohibiting our government from using our money to sell us programs the government wants to implement (or conversely, to sell us the necessity of curtailing programs the current administration doesn't like). The current administration spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year to (a) convince us that their policies are the best and (b) to keep what they are really doing secret from us. Both activities have no place in a representative democratic republic where the government is supposed to be a temporary servant of the people.

If I had the resources, I would pay people to go into the homes of these dead heroes and add the sorrow and anger of the grieving families to the stories. I would air the stories of the parents who were glad their son or daughter died so bravely and I would air the stories of the parents who were mad at their government for casually expending their child's life for no good reason. I would pay people to go into the army camps in Afghanistan and Iraq to document the anger and resentment of ordinary soldiers, to a war they don't want to be in, into the heroes' tales. Whenever possible I would tie in pertinent facts about the person's death -- like "Melinda's death is 1 of 17 this month that can be attributed, at least in part, to the lack of sufficient armor on combat vehicles in Iraq."

I do not want my tax dollars spent waging wars of aggression all over the planet. Granted that those wars happen anyway, I especially don't want to pay the cost of selling the war to the American people -- and I despise most, using these brave men and women's deaths as a tool to help make that sale.

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