who are we honoring here?”
By David Michael Green
-- -- Cindy Sheehan announced her departure from the
American public sphere last week, and the loss of her voice
touched me deeply.
I am saddened for her personally, for few have sacrificed so
much for their country, with so little to show for it. She gave
her son, Casey, for George Bush’s war in Iraq. Then she spent
the next three years giving up her health, her marriage, the
full-time parenting of her surviving children, and every ounce
of her time and energy – all to prevent other mothers from
suffering the same fate.
Arguably, she has nothing to show for her sacrifices other than
the scorn of America’s rabid right, most of whom somehow never
seem to show up themselves when there is fighting to be done
abroad. That plus another hole in her heart, to match the one
left by the waste of her son’s life.
To read Sheehan’s farewell letter is to realize that she now
also mourns another death along with Casey’s, that of America as
the country she and so many others of us grew up believing in.
Most Americans know of Sheehan from the stand she took outside
Bush’s vacation ranch in Crawford, asking only that he meet with
her. The sheer courage and simplicity of that act made for a
compelling David versus Goliath story that few could not find
Which is precisely why it drove conservative pundits ballistic,
and why they launched their vitriolic personal attacks against
her, just as they have with every other one of their critics or
political adversaries. To observe the savaging of a mother who
had given her son for this country, because she dared to ask
inconvenient questions, was perhaps the greatest shame of all in
an epoch of one astonishing political disgrace after another.
But that is precisely what happened. Fred Barnes said, “She’s a
crackpot”. Michelle Malkin had the audacity to claim that Casey
wouldn’t approve of “his mother’s crazy accusations”. And there
were much, much worse, and far, far more personal attacks beyond
Not to mention hypocrisy. Today, the overwhelming majority of
Americans agree with three fundamental propositions about Iraq:
that we were lied into the war, that we are failing there, and
that Americans should be coming home. Today, Bill O’Reilly says
“It was the wrong battlefield. It was. And there’s no getting
around that. We made a mistake.”
Leaving aside the known fact, based in documentary evidence,
that it was no “mistake” at all, this is the same O’Reilly who
only a few years ago argued that Cindy Sheehan – then making
essentially the same arguments he makes today – was “in bed with
the radical left”, that “this kind of behavior borders on
treasonous” and that she was linked to “people who hate this
government, hate their country”.
Are you not now also a traitor then, Bill?
And what does it say of America that the president couldn’t meet
with her, couldn’t address her questions, couldn’t risk exposure
of his deceits, couldn’t argue the virtues of his own policy?
And what does it say of Americans that we weren’t universally
enraged at this? And that we weren’t universally disgusted at
the visage of the most powerful man in the world cowering in his
ranch home behind an army of Secret Service agents, desperately
hiding from an ordinary American mother standing out in the sun
holding a sign?
Actually, though many people don’t know it, Cindy Sheehan did
meet with George W. Bush once.
Even more harrowing than the meeting they didn’t have, is the
one they did. It came in the wake of Casey’s death, back when
Sheehan was still on board with the administration’s propaganda
program. That would soon change. To read Cindy’s description of
that encounter between her family and George Bush is to come
face to face with the numbing depth of his heartlessness.
Bush came bounding into the meeting, all full of frat-boy
ebullience. An astonished Sheehan family watched as he glibly
blurted, “So who are we honoring here?” and repeatedly referred
to Cindy as “Mom”. As if that weren’t contemptuously
disrespectful enough, Bush hadn’t bothered to learn Casey’s
name. When the family tried to show him pictures of this fallen
soldier – the very kind of person the president loves to refer
to as a hero in the abstraction of countless photo-ops – he
refused to look. Faced with the real grief of real people, he
then demonstrated the same cut-and-run tactic for which he is so
fond of excoriating others for using in trying to clean up his
mess in Baghdad.
If this man has a heart, and if he cares about the damage he has
wrought in the hearts of others, he surely hid it well that day.
But on this day – today – as the American disaster in Iraq
descends into further chaos, as it lasts longer than our
involvement in World War Two, and as even conservative scholars
now refer to it as the worst foreign policy blunder in our long
history, Mr. Bush’s war takes another bloody toll at home as
well, ripping a gash in the fabric of our national soul.
For, while I like to think Cindy’s work will someday pay
handsome dividends of revived sanity in America, in the short
term what I see is that Casey is gone, Cindy is gone home, and
George and Bill remain.
Maybe this was once the land of the free and the home of brave,
perhaps way back in the olden times of the twentieth century.
But right now the free are at home with their wide-screen TVs
and the brave are retiring from the field, exhausted and
If that isn’t the perfect formula for national decline, I don’t
know what is.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at
Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive
readers' reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org),
but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to
respond. More of his work can be found at his website,
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