Re: She strikes a chord for military families
- From: "Zootwoman" <zootwoman@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 16 Aug 2005 16:02:47 -0700
The Light Of Reason
Politics, aesthetics, general cultural issues and more from Arthur
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SACRED, AND THE PROFANE: LEAVE CINDY SHEEHAN ALONE
But what I did mean was this: Casey Sheehan's death was unnecessary.
The war on Iraq is not the American Revolution, or World War II. Iraq
represented no serious threat to us whatsoever. As everyone who is
honest now acknowledges, it was an optional war-that is, a war we
need not have fought. Therefore, everyone who has died in Iraq-and
who will die in Iraq as long as we are there-need not have died, if
their deaths, like Casey Sheehan's, are a direct result of our
invasion of that country. In the sense that Casey Sheehan's death was
entirely avoidable and need not have happened at all, he died for no
good reason. And in that sense, I fully stand by that statement.
With regard to poetry that particularly speaks to Cindy Sheehan's
situation, I should have included this justly famous and very brief
poem from Rudyard Kipling. As I noted in my earlier post about World
War I literature, Kipling had been the preeminent poet on behalf of the
British Empire. It was the death of his only son in World War I that
changed his perspective so profoundly:
If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
That is the bitter, terrible truth that Kipling came to understand at
immense personal cost-and that Cindy Sheehan lives with every day.
The rest of us, most of whom do not share her pain, should never forget
I haven't specifically addressed the frenzied and mounting attacks on
Cindy Sheehan up to this point, primarily for one reason: those attacks
are as sickening as they were predictable. Let me note at the outset
that, in one very limited sense, Cindy Sheehan certainly was on notice
that this would be her fate if she chose to become a visible symbol of
opposition to the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq. However,
this acknowledgement should not be taken to mean that any of the
current attacks on her are deserved or just. They are neither.
Moreover, they are deeply uncivilized-and for the most part, not
I'm certain that Mrs. Sheehan was well aware of the kind of attacks
that would be launched against her. She is obviously a very intelligent
woman, and she has taken the measure of Bush and the most feverish of
his supporters. She knows what she's up against.
Before getting to my more specific point, some general background is
required. Any observant American knows that, beginning almost
immediately after 9/11, any disagreement with Bush or his foreign
policy-any disagreement at all, offered on the basis of any one of
numerous possible grounds, and even if supported by massive amounts of
evidence-has been characterized as treasonous. This has been an
explicit and frequent part of the demonization campaign engaged in by
Bush and his supporters-and the vilification of Mrs. Sheehan is only
the latest example of the kind of indecent and nauseating filth that
the idolaters of American Empire are now prepared to engage in.
I traced the genesis of this vicious argument in an essay examining a
remarkable piece of propaganda by the superficially "kind" and
apparently non-threatening Peggy Noonan, whose prose is so sweet that
you can feel your teeth rot as her sickly words ooze their way into
your body. Because of this sickly sweetness, the depth and viciousness
of the lie Noonan perpetrated on this occasion deserved notice.
After excerpting Noonan's column addressing the allegedly
"hateful" comments offered by Howard Dean, a column in which Noonan
imagined the outrage that would supposedly greet Bush if the president
were to say that he viewed the Republicans as "good" and the
Democrats as "evil" and that he "hated" all Democrats, I wrote:
This is truly masterful. I take my hat off to Ms. Noonan. It sounds so
utterly reasonable. It sounds so judicious. It sounds so mature.
It is also a great big, enormous lie. In fact, Bush and many members of
his administration-and almost all of Bush's most ardent supporters
in the media, and in an even more extreme form (if that is possible) in
the blogosphere-have been making all of these statements for the last
several years. Since 9/11, such statements are the daily meal provided
by the Bush administration.
It is not even the case that such statements are hidden or disguised.
They are right out in the open, but Noonan relies on the unfortunate
fact that most people are unable to see the truth and unwilling to name
Remember the basic dichotomy from which all the rest sprang, provided
in a now-famous statement by our President himself in the immediate
aftermath of 9/11: "You are either with us, or on the side of the
terrorists." This statement is so broad and so general that it is
susceptible to many different meanings and applications-and that is
precisely the point of this type of propaganda.
For almost overnight, one central meaning of Bush's statement became
the following: If you disagree with the manner in which Bush chooses to
fight this war-if you question or criticize any aspect of it at
all-then you are "on the side of the terrorists." Don't take my
word for it. Take the word of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft
(defending the administration's actions in response to 9/11):
"To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against
non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of
lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for
they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," Ashcroft
told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "They give ammunition to
America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage
people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."
This statement was not only not disavowed by the Bush administration:
it has been reinforced countless times since. We most recently saw this
tactic employed full-force in the completely phony Newsweek
controversy. The always-dependable Mr. Rumsfeld:
"People lost their lives. People are dead," Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld said. "People need to be very careful about what
they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do."
Note that the post in which I quoted Rumsfeld was entitled, "Careful
Now, Obedient Servants!" Remember that Rumsfeld was addressing what
people regard as a "free press." And his message was unmistakable:
do not report stories that we do not like, or that we in our sole
judgment view as possibly damaging, for reasons we are not obliged to
share with you. Report only the "news" that we want you to report.
Push us too far, and you will only report "news" that we permit you
In the blogosphere, these kinds of tactics have been carried to still
more insidious and more threatening levels. Strong critics of Bush's
"War on Terror" are not antiwar: they are "on the other side."
People who use and repeat such idiotic phrases seek to avoid their
clear meaning: they are accusing many of Bush's critics of treason.
They ought to state it openly, so everyone knows exactly what the
nature of the accusation is-and so that we may all appreciate how
broad a swath of the American public they include in such judgments.
And that is the ultimate meaning of all such statements from the
administration and its rabid supporters: passionate, meaningful,
serious criticism of U.S. foreign policy is treason-it undermines our
"national will," it weakens us in a time of great peril, and it
"give[s] ammunition to America's enemies."
So let us improve upon Noonan's fictional Bush one more time. With
the above actual statements from Bush and many others in mind-and
such statements could easily be multiplied a thousandfold-consider
what the message from those who support Bush's "War on Terror" in
fact has been:
"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I want to speak this evening about
how I see the political landscape. Let me jump right in. The struggle
between freedom and the terrorists is a struggle between good and
evil-and we're the good. I hate anyone who questions or criticizes
my way of fighting this war. Let's face it, all such critics hate
freedom and want to see it destroyed. Who are they, really, but people
who are intent on eroding our will, destroying the United States and
undermining freedom as I conceive it? They have no shame.
"But why would they? They have never been acquainted with the truth.
You ever been to a peace rally? They all look the same. They all behave
the same. They have a dictatorship, and suffer from zeal so extreme
that they dare to question my judgment and the actions of my
administration. But what would you expect when you have a far left
extremist base? Our nation, and the future of freedom around the world,
cannot afford more of their leadership. I call on you to help me defeat
As I said, this is exactly what Bush and many of his supporters have
been saying for the last several years. You see these and similar
statements every day in certain parts of our "mainstream" press,
and you see them constantly in certain parts of the blogosphere. Most
importantly, you hear them still from Bush and other members of his
administration. I will grant Bush and his supporters this much: their
target is much more all-encompassing than Dean's. Dean only spoke of
the Republican Party. Bush and his supporters seek to demonize anyone
and everyone who dares to disagree with them at all (except, of course,
on issues that are insignificant and beside the point)-Democrats,
independents, libertarians, liberals, leftists, and even other
Republicans who dare to step out of line from time to time, to say
nothing of large parts of the rest of the world. Compared to these
tactics and these goals, Dean is an amateur.
The only reason that Bush and his supporters get away with this, and
that Howard Dean and some few others do not, is that lies are now the
common coin of the realm, and the truth is despised. But Noonan gives
us yet another version of the Big Lie-the lie that is so immense,
that is offered up in full daylight, that no one is quite willing to
believe that such blatant deception and manipulation is being committed
literally under his nose.
Given all this, the worst and biggest lie told by Noonan is this one:
"If Mr. Bush ever spoke this way, most Republicans would feel
embarrassment. I would be among the legions who would denounce his
But he has "spoke[n] this way," Ms. Noonan, countless times, as
have countless others. But you have never, ever denounced such
statements, not once. You cheer them all on, over and over and over
In this cultural setting, it was inevitable that Cindy Sheehan would
become a major target of the Bush supporters. And because her cause is
gaining so much attention-and most importantly, because it is gaining
so much support from the American public-she must be destroyed.
Obviously, the truly obscene and unforgivable aspect of the attacks on
Mrs. Sheehan is the fact that her oldest son was killed in a completely
unnecessary war-a war which has now killed almost 2,000 Americans,
has permanently maimed many additional thousands of Americans, and has
killed and maimed deliberately uncounted tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Cindy Sheehan's son was killed in that war. Focus on that fact, and
forget everything else. Mrs. Sheehan herself offered some powerful
words to Bush, in which she explained to Bush exactly what "hard
work" is, since his entire life reveals that he doesn't grasp the
first thing about that phrase.
Think about how infinitely and how incomprehensibly worse it is for a
parent to lose a child. I will tell you one further thing, based on my
own experience: certainly my sister, her husband and their other son
have gone on with their lives, have had many achievements and much
success, and have enjoyed a great deal of happiness. Thank God for
that. But their lives were forever altered, and they have never been
the same. In countless ways-which I will not recount here, since it
is their private business-they have all been changed, in ways large
and small. Their lives have taken turns they would not have
otherwise-and the scars still remain, even all these years later. And
some of the wounds will never heal, no matter how long they live.
Cindy Sheehan's son did not die at home, after a terrible illness
which even modern medicine could not cure. Such illnesses strike all
families eventually. They are indeed terrible, but they too are in the
natural, inevitable order of things. Cindy Sheehan's son died in a
war which even its most ardent supporters now admit was "optional."
Let me translate that: Casey Sheehan died for no good reason at all.
His death had nothing to do with the defense of our country, and it did
not happen because Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, which it did not.
In that sense, Casey Sheehan's was entirely unnatural-and it was
the direct result of the disastrous and self-destructive course chosen
by our president.
Think about the limitless, unending pain that comes from knowing that
your son died for no good reason at all-that he is dead only because
your president and his advisors would have their war, regardless of the
facts, and that they would make other people, but never themselves or
those they love so desperately, bear all its unbearable costs.
Cindy Sheehan has voluntarily placed herself directly in the center of
the major political and cultural battle of our time. She knew the
nature of the opposition and the attacks she would face. But that does
make those attacks legitimate-or decent.
I will not here dissect the attacks on Mrs. Sheehan, because I consider
all of that beside the point. You are free to state that you disagree
with Mrs. Sheehan's opposition to the war, and that you think she is
completely wrong. That is indisputably your right. Because the issues
are so important, I would expect no less-and I do not think Mrs.
Sheehan expected less.
But if Bush's supporters were decent at all, that is where they would
stop. State your disagreement, and the reasons why her position is not
yours. But beyond that: leave it alone. Leave Cindy Sheehan alone. You
do not understand her grief or what it might impel her to do. God grant
that you never have cause to understand it.
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