Christina Bellantoni, writing in the Washington Times today, details President Obama's first experiences writing letters of condolence to families of the fallen. According to the story, the president is taking the time to write each letter himself, signing it simply "Barack." As the president writes these letters, and feels the weight of Americans dying in war under his administration, he should also consider how the human cost of war has partially been hidden from the public, and reverse that policy.
Indeed, the Washington Post reports at the same time today, that Secretary Gates is reviewing the ban on any coverage of war dead coming home at Dover Air Force Base, and the incredible respect shown to the flag draped coffins. Presumably, when that review is done, it will be presented to the president, so he can make a decision.
As the Post notes, the ban is not something that's been around forever. In fact, it's a pretty recent policy, instituted for purely political reasons, with waivers given, also for purely political reasons. The ban was instituted just before the first Gulf War, by the first President Bush, worried that images of the dead coming home could affect support for the war, just as they had during Vietnam. And, as noted in the story, George W. Bush allowed images of a victim of the Pentagon 9/11 attacks to be shown, to stir up anger (as if we needed any more reason).
Of course, this isn't a cut and dry decision, nor should the ban be lifted without any kind of restrictions.
Concerns over privacy are legitimate, and the survivors of our fallen service members should be respected. For instance, if newspapers are allowed to print pictures of returning caskets, it's not proper to identify who is in each of them, without the consent of the families. They should be given time to grieve in their own way, and in their own time. However, showing unidentified flag-draped coffins coming into Dover (or any other ports of entry) is not an invasion of privacy, but is an unfortunate part of war that the public has a right to see.
Some in Congress have been working on this issue for a while. Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican who VoteVets.org has supported, has legislation that would reverse the policy, while keeping concerns about privacy in mind. With 'bi-partisanship' all the buzz in DC, you couldn't find someone who is more of a true conservative than Walter Jones. President Obama should work with the Congressman on his legislation, so that any reversal of the ban could be bipartisan and move through Congress, instead of by executive decision.
In the end, those of us who served swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Part of that Constitution is freedom of the press, to promote the ability of the public to have as much information as possible -- even when that information is not comfortable for those decision-makers in power.
The return of our war dead certainly falls into that category. The policy should be changed.
Crossposted at VetVoice.com
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