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Conservative Political Commentary

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Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Shall We March Out the Grieving Mothers?
posted by Bathus

In a society in which politicians are admired for the capacity to "feel your pain," or to appear to do so when they bite their own lips, a society in which otherwise ordinary folks come to blows to win a camera's attention so they can emote about their family members' private failings on national daytime television, a society in which the successes of our most prominent interviewers--the Winfreys and the Walters--are measured by the facility with which they can extract tears from interviewees as if on cue, in such a society--one in which emotion has never before been so widely and thinly dispersed, nor so close to the surface of the national psyche--the powerful contrast of a mother's deep and genuine grief rises to the status of a sanctified thing.

It is always said that there is no grief greater than that of a mother who has lost her child. Every decent person knows instinctively that such grief, in and of itself, should never be questioned. Yet one may still ask, "What can that grief demand? What is owed to such grief?"

When the mother has lost her son to war in the service of this nation, she is owed, and should never have to demand, for herself a sincere regard for her loss and every other consolation her fellow citizens can reasonably bestow, and for her son the unstinting honors of a grateful nation.

Even beyond that, if she wishes to speak about her son's death and the cause for which he gave his life, whether or not she supports or opposes that cause, she does deserve to be heard. Yes, she does deserve to be heard because it is quite possible that the immeasurable loss she has suffered has inspired her to think about that cause more deeply and more carefully than those whose lives have not been similarly affected. At the same time, one must keep in mind that it is also possible that the loss she has suffered might instead have caused her to think less rationally, more angrily, more vengefully.

So when Cindy Sheehan speaks, decency obliges us all to give her a respectful hearing. But though we are obliged to hear her, we are not obliged to heed her.

Unfortunately, her wrathful voice brings no new insight. Her opinions are nothing more and nothing less than re-amplified repetitions of the hyperbolic irrationalities that have been heard from her manipulators on the extreme left since before the war in Iraq began. Thus, we are obliged to give Cindy Sheehan a fair hearing, but we are not obliged to heed her when she says:
The Halliburtons, Bechtels, KBRs, and the oil oligarchs of the world, who are laughing all the way to the bank, think of Iraq with greedy glee each day.

When will the rest of America finally come out of its coma? When, God forbid, the jack-booted thugs come pounding on their door some midnight?

[T]ens of thousands of the other victims . . . have been killed for nothing but outright lies and bald-faced betrayals.

Your grandchildren and children who will be entering Kindergarten this fall will be fighting George’s endless war if he gets his way and is allowed to continue spreading the cancer of imperialism in the Middle-East.

I know it was "worth it" to Dick Cheney who was the CEO of Halliburton, (of no-bid contract fame) which has raped billions of dollars from our government, from the people of Iraq, and from our soldiers who are not getting what they need to survive in a combat zone.

Our "president" thinks stolen elections confer a mandate.

Our media was, and still is, a willing shill for the Administration and has never told the American public the truth.

Casey was sent to die in a war that was based on the imagination of some Neo-Cons who love to fill our lives with fear.

This war was sold to the American people by a slimy leadership with a maniacal zeal and phony sincerity that would have impressed snake oil salesmen a century ago.
We are not obliged to heed her when she says:
Is there yet an American who can not clearly see that Dick Cheney . . . whether it be 1975 or 2005. . . will say whatever he thinks is required to ultimately cause wealth and power to move to himself and to his friends?

Is there anyone in America who cannot yet see that Donald Runsfeld is a liar . . . that he, as with Hitler and Stalin . . . will say anything so long as he thinks it will help shape the world to his own liking?

Our country has been overtaken by murderous thugs . . . gangsters who lust after fortunes and power; never caring that their addictions are at the expense of our loved ones, and the blood of innocent people near and far.
We are not obliged to heed her when she says:
You get that maniac [Bush] out here to talk with me in person.

[J]ust what was the noble cause Casey died for?' Was it freedom and democracy? Bull---t! He died for oil. He died to make your friends richer. He died to expand American imperialism in the Middle East. We're not freer here, thanks to your PATRIOT Act. Iraq is not free. You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you'll stop the terrorism.
We need not heed her when she says:
If anyone reading this has children, would you think it was worth it?? Instead of some Congress leaders showing ink-stained fingers at the SOTU address they should have held up blood soaked hands. . . . [M]y first born was murdered. Am I angry? Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel. [Note: Sheehan has recently denied writing these particular statements, but the evidence indicates that she did write them.]
Nor are we obliged to heed her when she says:
We are not waging a war on terror in this country. We’re waging a war of terror. The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush. How many more people are we going to let him kill before we stop him?

I know that George Bush and his band of neo-cons and their neo-con agenda killed my son.

America has been killing people, like my sister over here says, since we first stepped on this continent, we have been responsible for death and destruction. I passed on that bullshit to my son and my son enlisted. I’m going all over the country telling moms: This country is not worth dying for. . . . We might not even have been attacked by Osama bin Laden[.] [I]f 9/11 was their Pearl Harbor to get their neo-con agenda through and, if I would have known that before my son was killed, I would have taken him to Canada. I would never have let him go and try and defend this morally repugnant system we have.

They’re a bunch of fucking hypocrites!
Such statements by Cindy Sheehan reveal an undeniable depth of feeling, a blind and inconsolable anger, an insane grief--and nothing else.

Yet in our time, "feelings" are being elevated to be the ultimate measure of the validity of one's opinions, such that if one's feelings are known or asserted to be "deeply held," those feelings thereby satisfy every deficiency of reasoned argument. Thus, we are told that "the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute."

So now shall we round up all the grieving mothers, divide them into contingents of those who support and those who oppose the war, arm them with placards and megaphones, march them onto opposite sides of a field in Crawford, let them have it out, and televise the whole thing in weekly installments, with a grand finale during May sweeps? But how shall we judge the result? By the volume of their wailings. By the number of tears shed on either side? By the number of votes cast via a 1-800 number?

Such an appalling scene is the grotesque end toward which the growing spectacle of Cindy Sheehan, nurtured by the media, would point us. There is nothing that could be learned from it as to whether or how to conduct the war, and the same can be said of the sad spectacle that Cindy Sheehan has made of herself, with her claim that her son was "murdered by the Bush crime family" or her claim that her son "was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel."

As Cindy Sheehan continues with such irrational statements, just as decency obliged us to listen to her in respectful silence, the very same decency now obliges us to turn away and listen no more, lest we encourage her in displays that even the deference accorded to insufferable grief cannot prevent from becoming hideous self-humiliations.

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

Yet though it is now clear that there is no lesson to be learned from Cindy Sheehan about how or whether to fight the war, there is a lesson, more personal but no less universal, to be learned from the way she has chosen to channel her grief and the way some other grieving mothers have dealt differently with the same terrible blow.

Consistent with the liberal theology of victimology, in which only victims can be heroes, Cindy Sheehan always refers to her son, Casey, as a "hero." And in truth, Casey is a hero--not a passive "victim-hero," as Cindy Sheehan would have him remebered, but a genuine active hero who died in service of his country. Yet if she does have her way now, Cindy Sheehan will transform her son from an active hero into a helpless pawn. Before he went to war, when Cindy Sheehan "begged him not to go," her son told her:
Mom, I have to go. It's my duty. My buddies are going.
But now, according to Cindy Sheehan, her son's life, his legacy, is not one exemplifying the nobility of individual free choice, loyalty to comrades, and devotion to duty. That legacy, which is Casey Sheehan's by every honorable right, is by her now to be obliterated and supplanted by a legacy of infantile victimhood, in which he is held forth as an example of a man who, once he ventured beyond the perimeter of his mother's skirt, lacked the good sense to avoid being duped and misled:
Sheehan . . . never wanted Casey to join the military. She said he did after being misled by his recruiter.
Ultimately Cindy Sheehan would make even that ignoble legacy of ignorant victimhood depend not upon her son's own actions, but upon her actions. You see, Casey's legacy now depends upon Cindy Sheehan, who explains:
If anything I do can shorten the war by one minute or save one life, or bring discredit to the evil bastards in the administration, my life will have been worthwhile, and Casey's sacrifice meaningful.
In other words, according to Cindy Sheehan, the meaningingfulness of her son's life and death should not be determined by the decisions he voluntarily chose while he lived, but should be determined, after his death and contrary to his own free decisions, by the actions of Cindy Sheehan. Casey Sheehan's legacy is not to be found in his own noble choice to serve his country and risk death in war. No, his legacy is to be determined by whether or not Cindy Sheehan succeeds in her own cause. According to Cindy Sheehan, her son's life will be "meaningful" only if she succeeds.

Cindy Sheehan has taken from her son, and abrogated to herself, the power to determine the meaning of his life.

But Cindy Sheehan is not the only grieving mother.

Penelope Gavriel also grieves. And she too deserves to be heard.

Her son, Dimitrios Gavriel was killed fighting in Iraq on November 19, 2004. Four days later, Bob Oakes interviewed her on the radio show Here and Now:
Penelope Gavriel: He was a very idealistic person. He believed in integrity, leading by example, honesty. He was always mentoring people to do the right thing ever since he was in highschool. He was one of the youngest captains on his wrestling team. Then after his college years when he joined the working people ranks, he realized that the world is a lot different than what he imagined it to be . . . . And then it was Sept 11. During that tragic incident he lost two of his closest friends, and that emboldened his belief that that is really what he has to do, that he needs to enlist, go serve his country, give back to his country a little bit of what he can. And also he felt like many young men and women who joined after September 11, that this was a calling for them.

. . . .

Q: What made you decide you had to let him go?

A: It wasn't a matter of a decision on our behalf. The only role we played at that moment was, just bless him, and let him go. . . . He told one of his friends I could not go on living my life until I go through this. He enlisted last year, October 23rd. He did boot camp for three months, and then went to Camp Lejeune where he was based. After drills in urban warfare, they rated them for Iraq, and they left. They were deployed June 23rd of 2004.

Q: What do you know about his duty in Iraq? Did he seem concerned?

A: Not at all. Because he knew we were very concerned about his safety from conversations and questions we were asking him, every time we communicated with him . . . [he said], "Everything is great, I'm in good shape, I'm eating well, I'm healthy, the weather is getting nice now. It's not as hot. . . . Don't worry about me. I'm in great shape. I'm looking forward to finish the job we have to do here and come back home."

Q: He was a gung ho guy.

A: Absolutely.

Q: A real Marine. He was interviewed by the NY Times just a few months back, and he was quoted as saying, "We're locked, cocked, and ready to rock."

A: And ready to rock.

Q: And "that's about how we feel."

A: And that's who he was. He wasn't though the polemical war monger as he might sound from these words. He was a lot softer than that. The Marines though are a tough corps, and you cannot act softly. You need to talk boldly and act boldly. Inside he was a very loving, soft giant, and he had very many ways that he demonstrated that among his friends and his family.

Q: He told a friend of his, a former room mate at Brown University, that he was concerned about his legacy. And I know it might be a little early to think about this, but what do you think his legacy is?

A: . . . . I think he's going to have the best legacy he ever dreamed of. At what price though? He wanted to be remembered as somebody who never backed off out of a difficult moment, fearless, and always striving the hardest. He wanted to be challenged, always.

Q: Mrs. Gavriel, I'm sure there are folks who are listening to us talk who wonder how you have the strength do this at this time, and so eloquently I might add. I know that part of the reason you want to talk to us and to other reporters is that you want Demi to be remembered as a role model for other children.

A: Exactly. With these interviews and meetings we have with media, we like to convey to the youth primarily of this country that bravery is not an advantage [you are born with]. It's something that everybody can do. You can always be brave, love your country, be a good person, and achieve high in life, if you want to.

Q: Penelope Gavriel, I'm sure that I speak for most everyone who's listening when I say thank you so very much for speaking with us and we're very sorry for you loss.

A: I thank you, too. We are grieving for his loss, but he was another good man of the many who were lost in this cause.
Like Cindy Sheehan, Penelope Gavriel tried to discourage her son, Dimitrios, from joining the service to fight in Iraq. But she understood that it was his life and his decision. "Just bless him and let him go."

To comprehend the full meaning of Ms. Gavriel's words, I urge you to click this audio link to listen to the sound of her voice, which reveals a love and respect for her son that printed words cannot convey. In her grief, Penelope Gavriel does not seek to transform her son's legacy into that of a dupe and victim. She does not seek to transform the meaning of his life and death to suit her own political aims. For all we know, Ms. Gavriel herself might oppose the war. But her respect for her son as a man, as his own man, inspires her to proclaim simply and honestly the honorable legacy Dimitrios Gavriel sought, and won, for himself.

posted by Bathus | 8/16/2005 05:55:00 PM
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