Respect for the Honorable Dead
I've been giving this news in a report from Dana Milbank, who is often helpful to the anti-Bush crowd quite a bit of thought since Steve of Absit Invidia made an anti-Bush screed out of it. Here's the basis for the controversy:
Here's Steve's reaction:
The reason I've spent so much time with this report and Steve's question is that I don't believe that it is possible to honor fallen American military personnel too much. And I would not have us shying away from acknowledging their sacrifice and showing our gratitude for it by facing up to the consequences. However, both Steve's summary of the practice and his call for outrage oversimplify the issue.
Historically, according to Milbank, ceremonies for arriving coffins didn't begin until the Carter administration, after Vietnam, and were performed under and often attended by Reagan. When the first President Bush came to office, the practice continued until 1991, perhaps (or perhaps not) ending in part as a response to the newsmedia's covering a press conference given by the president while on the other part of a split screen coffins passed by. That's not the sort of thing that television newsrooms do by accident.
Under Clinton, certain arrival ceremonies were open to the press, although it looks like they were mostly for people who died in accidents or terrorist attacks (not Mogadishu?). And the second President Bush continued the practice through the Afghanistan war.
In other words, even beyond the justifications offered by the administration and the Pentagon (which you can read for yourself in the article), ending press coverage of arriving coffins was not a dramatic reversal of longstanding tradition. This is particularly true when it is considered that, as far as I can tell, such ceremonies have almost exclusively been performed after limited missions or discrete events, not as part of ongoing wars. As for President Bush's having not attended any funerals or memorials, even Milbank admits that Bush has marked with at least "token homage" the losses in speeches and has met with soldiers' families.
Now, nobody should doubt that the major media, which has proven itself to be more than sympathetic with anti-Bush sentiments, and the President's political enemies would endeavor to transform such ceremonies into propaganda points for their own causes. And it simply isn't the case that freedom of the press requires that cameras be allowed anywhere at any time. The press is free to cover local ceremonies and to report on the lives and deaths of those who've perished in Iraq.
Moreover, it seems to me beyond plausibility to suggest that President Bush has attempted to ignore, therefore refusing to pay tribute to, those who have died. He's merely done so without the fanfare, showing humble respect, without the false piety made so famous by his predecessor. In doing so, he has allowed the dead to remain local heroes, to remain somebody's son or daughter, father or mother, friend, family not coffins moving across the television screen, paraded in aggregate as propaganda for those who have no solution to the danger that our nation faces but to undo the progress that the heroes died to make.
ADDENDUM (a week later):
Let me get this straight; the administration has "diminish[ed] our war heroes" by taking away the image of rows of coffins and leaving only the names and stories of the men and women in them?
Note that the President's actions in this respect so conflict with Ms. Dowd's caricature of him that she can only guess that he is making foolish and useless "political calculations" that conflict with a posture that he "would normally embrace." As I suggested back when the Plame Game was still limited to online whispers, Bush's enemies want so badly to see no good in him that they simultaneously credit him with historic degrees of cunning and deception and trump up controversies that would require him to be a bumbling political operative.
Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:08 PM EST