LXVIII – Honoring the Dead

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The
release of photographs of flag-draped coffins containing the bodies
of American soldiers has upset the Bush administration.  With
as hypocritical a sense of false piety to come from a White House
well-versed in fabrication, the Bush leaguers declared that such
photos were “insensitive” to the feelings of grieving families. 
What arrant nonsense!  What the Bush supporters fear is that,
like the Vietnam War, television pictures of increasing numbers
of coffins from Iraq will provide the American public a visual sense
of the human costs of this neoconservative derangement.

War
supporters speak of the importance of repressing such photos in
order to “honor the dead.”  But this crowd is as disinterested
in “honoring” soldiers as it is in having the events of 9/11 fully
revealed.  If they truly wish to honor the young men and women
who have been duped into believing that “be all you can be” means
getting blown to pieces in state-concocted conflicts, they would
bring them home alive, not in body-bags! 

In
this war — as in others — I am less interested in honoring the
dead than in preventing the dead.  But the state and
I have different agendas.  To the politicians and bureaucrats,
human beings have never been anything more than fungible resources
to exploit on behalf of their narrow ambitions.  You may recall
the videotaped coverage of a funeral attended by then-President
Clinton.  He was walking from the ceremony and joking with
another man when he suddenly became aware of the television camera.
The expression on his face quickly turned to one of solemnity.

When
the government speaks of increasing the number of troops in Iraq,
and directs its media lapdogs to begin discussing a return to military
conscription, you get an idea of just how little they regard the
life of your son or daughter.  Like Johnson, Nixon, Reagan,
Clinton, and other wartime presidents, George Bush can go to Arlington
cemetery and feign as much respect for the dead as his acting coaches
can squeeze from his primal insincerity.  The actions of these
men belie their sanctimonious words and empty posturing.

The
state is not always averse to reminding people of the victims of
wars.  Once a war has been concluded, and people no longer
have to struggle with ongoing battle deaths, the political system
is eager to celebrate earlier casualties.  Through Memorial
Day and July 4th speeches, politicians exhort the living
to find meaning in the deaths of earlier generations of soldiers,
a tactic designed to prepare us to accept the propriety of future
wars.  Medals are also awarded, monuments are constructed,
while endless films create heroic images of men in war.  The
attitude the state wants us to embrace was expressed in the Vietnam
era bumper-sticker: “war is good business: invest your son.”

As
long as wars are treated as abstractions, the state can use
them to reinforce the sense of collective violence and sacrifice
upon which political systems depend.  It is when the war dead
are personified, and their numbers continue to mount, that decent
people become uneasy with the butchery.  A Vietnam War Memorial
depicting past victims of warfare is safe for the warmongers,
just as the televised coverage of dead soldiers coming home from
Vietnam was detrimental to war efforts.  The Bush administration
learned the lesson: pictures of flag-draped coffins of present
victims diminish public enthusiasm for their continuing sacrifice. 
This is the only reason the state insists on hiding these
human costs.

It
is but another lie upon which government is based to assert that
concealing these photos from public view is necessary in order to
protect grieving families.  None of the coffins were identified
as the remains of any particular soldier.  Furthermore, the
state has never shown an unwillingness to exploit the deaths of
police officers when killed “in the line of duty.”  Daily television
news coverage will show scenes of an officer's death, his bullet-riddled
car, as well as close-ups of the grieving family at his funeral. 
Where is the “sensitivity” to the suffering of family members when
the state chooses to exploit the dead for its purposes?

Nor
have the politicians been lax in capitalizing on the deaths of nearly
three thousand victims of the World Trade Center attack to advance
state interests. In his campaign materials, George Bush has used
photos of New York City firemen carrying flag-draped coffins of
their comrades killed on 9/11.  Do those who release photos
showing the public the human consequences of war stand on a lower
ethical plane than the man who has precipitated these deaths, and
who uses photos of dead firemen to advance his political ambitions?
 Like the burning of the Reichstag, or the attack on Pearl
Harbor, or the sinking of the Lusitania, or the blowing up of the
battleship “Maine,” the state has always been eager to take advantage
of the death and suffering of others in order to foment its wars. 
If, on occasion, the state has been complicit in causing such attacks
in order to foster a war frenzy, then so be it.

When
children are abused, kidnapped, or murdered, the state eagerly exploits
their victimization by expanding its police-state powers in the
name of the child.  Many of us have learned that when the state
seeks to aggrandize its authority over us, it is often done in the
name of “protecting the children.”  How much legislation has
been proposed and/or enacted in the name of a young victim of a
crime?  If ten-year-old Penelope Zilch is sexually assaulted
and murdered by a man later shown to have frequented adult bookstores,
you can be assured that the statists will hurriedly draft proposed
legislation requiring all people who enter such businesses to be
photographed and fingerprinted. The legislation will thereafter
be known as “Penny's Law,” with the parents becoming frequent visitors
to television programs to relive the pain of their child's death
in order to help promote the state's interest in greater power. 
Anyone who opposes such legislation will be labeled a defender of
those who murder children, a supporter of pornography, or, worse
still, a person who is insensitive to the suffering of the grief-stricken
family.

The
state exploits the deaths of young people in other ways for its
political gain. A cable news channel did a fifth anniversary news
report of the killings at Columbine High School in Colorado. 
A father of one of the victims was interviewed, and he spoke of
his efforts to get tougher gun control laws enacted as a remembrance
to his son.  He commented that his son had told him, a few
days before being killed, that he had found a “loophole” in the
Brady bill.

I
feel great sadness for the families of any children that have been
killed, whether in accidents, wars, or at the hands of murderers. 
I make no light of their loss, and I can understand their motivation
to memorialize their children in some meaningful way.  But
do such people truly believe that their children died because of
a “loophole” in a federal statute?  Is the lesson to be drawn
from such killings that our world suffers only from inept legislative
draftsmanship, and that we can best honor their deaths by campaigning
for more tightly-written statutes?

Why
do we pour our energies into honoring the practice of victimization? 
Out of a sense of love and respect for those killed, why do we not
condemn the thinking and forces that brought about the deaths of
loved ones?  When people offer the prayer that these dead “shall
not have died in vain,” the painful reality is that their deaths
were futile, and that they will not be the last to die in
order to gratify the aggressive appetites of others.  If we
truly desire to honor the memories of those killed, can we begin
dismantling — in both our minds and parks — the monuments we have
erected to the sanctification of institutionalized death and mayhem?

It
is considered insensitive and politically incorrect to raise such
questions, of course, just as it is regarded as unpatriotic to question
the causes of 9/11 or the ulterior motives of the Bush administration
in Afghanistan and Iraq. The state, being grounded in a network
of lies and contradictions held together by force, is always threatened
by truth. This is why truth, as has often been said, is the first
casualty of war, a victim whose loss must be honored by any decent
society.  But as we have seen in these post-9/11 months, truth-telling
is not a priority for a nation whooped up in a mania for war.

Those
who published pictures of coffins returning to America have probably
experienced the same sense of loneliness felt by the boy who reported
the nakedness of the emperor. In the meantime, you and I are admonished
to distance ourselves from such “insensitive” people; to dismiss
the evidence they have revealed to our eyes; and to reject the truth
of their message in the name of “honoring the dead.” The dead deserve
better than this!

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