- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

Only a particularly heartless churl would argue with a mother’s expression of grief over the loss of a son on a distant battlefield, and you won’t find criticism of Cindy Sheehan here. She’s conducting a vigil at Prairie Chapel Ranch until George W. Bush invites her in to talk about abandoning the war in Iraq.

The president has talked to her once; she says now that he offered nothing to dull the dagger thrust into the most tender places of her heart and that in his attempt to console, he only made things worse. It’s not hard to imagine how anything anyone could say would deepen grief and make the hurt more acute. Losing Spc. Casey Sheehan was awful enough, and now the media exploitation of the mother’s grief threatens to disrupt the family circle.

Casey’s aunt, who says she is speaking for “his grandparents, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins,” yesterday dispatched this brief letter to the Drudge Report in an attempt to quiet the public controversy:

“Our family has been so distressed by the recent activities of [his mother] Cindy, we are breaking our silence and we have collectively written a statement for release. Feel free to distribute it as you wish. In response to questions regarding the Cindy Sheehan/Crawford Texas issue [this is the] Sheehan Family Statement: ‘The Sheehan Family lost our beloved Casey in the Iraq War and we have been silently, respectfully grieving. We do not agree with the political motivations and publicity tactics of Cindy Sheehan. She now appears to be promoting her own personal agenda and notoriety at the expense of her son’s good name and reputation. The rest of the Sheehan Family supports the troops, our country, and our president, silently, with prayer and respect.’”

The continuing media exploitation of the mother’s grief is another matter. The story is catnip for television news, whose worthies imagine that the ultimate incisive question is a version of “how does it feel?” (Obvious answer: “It feels exactly how you think it would feel, idiot.”)

The fortunes of war are, by nature, wild and undisciplined, heaving first this way and then that way, and the dreaded agony of any president is the decision to send young men (and now women) into harm’s way. Some presidents have a tender touch; others don’t. Ronald Reagan’s heartfelt eloquence was never more reassuring than with his tribute to the fallen Marines who were brought home from Lebanon in honored glory. One of the most poignant documents of Lincoln’s war was his letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby of Boston, who he thought had lost five sons in the invasion of the South. “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,” Lincoln wrote. “But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.”

In the event, Mrs. Bixby, like Cindy Sheehan an embittered critic of war, was thought to have been an improbable Confederate sympathizer, and she destroyed the letter in anger. Its contents would have been lost if the letter had not been reprinted in a Boston newspaper. In fact, she had lost two sons, not five. One son was a deserter, another was honorably discharged, the fifth lost to history. Nevertheless, the poignancy was no less real and stirred the sentiments of a weary constituency. Carl Sandburg, going over the top as usual, said Lincoln had dropped “black roses into the immemorial sea for mystic remembrance and consecration … Here was a piece of the American Bible.” The letter was the inspiration 130 years later for the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

George W.’s gift is his stubborn and determined persistence in not allowing sacrifices made in Afghanistan and Iraq to be squandered by those who have no stomach for the fight now that the fight is rougher than expected. Democracies wage war only with difficulty. Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Vietnam veteran and associate dean of the Naval War College, observes in National Review Online that the Athenians second-guessed every decision their leaders made in the Peloponnesian War; Lincoln had to contend with Radical Republicans who thought he was a bit of a weenie as the commander in chief.

“But neither the Athenians nor Lincoln had to contend with a smug, detached mainstream media,” he writes, and ” … it is hard to conduct military operations when a chorus of eunuchs is describing every action we take as a violation of everything for which America stands, a quagmire in which we are doomed to failure, and a waste of American lives.” Certain earlier presidents would agree.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide