Who speaks for the fallen soldier?
People have been doing it forever, or at least as far back as the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. But the question has a new urgency now as both supporters and opponents of the war in Iraq are invoking memories of the dead to justify their positions.
Twice this week, George W. Bush has said that Americans must continue to fight and die in Iraq because -- well, because other Americans have fought and died in Iraq. In Utah Monday, Bush said Americans "owe" it to their fallen soldiers to "honor their sacrifice by staying on the offensive against the terrorists, and building strong allies in Afghanistan and Iraq that will help us win and fight -- fight and win the war on terror." And in Idaho yesterday, he said that the American soldiers who have died in Iraq -- and there have been 1,873 of them now -- "gave their lives for a cause that is just and necessary for the security of our country, and now we will honor their sacrifice by completing their mission."
The argument has a certain surface appeal, at least for some family members of fallen soldiers who can't bear the thought that their loved ones may have died in vain. And to be fair, if 1,873 U.S. deaths had brought us to the edge of a free and democratic Iraq, peace in the Middle East or safety for the United States, then we might be able to get our minds around the idea that a few more deaths would somehow honor the soldiers and Marines who have been killed already. But that's not the way this thing is turning out: The Iraqi National Assembly has just tabled plans to vote on the draft constitution that was supposed to have been adopted a week and a half ago, and a majority of Americans say the war has made us less safe, not more. If the war in Iraq is a futile cause, we have a hard time understanding how more deaths can provide any additional honor for the lives that have already been lost. If 1,873 Americans have died in vain, then they have died in vain, regardless whether another 10 or a hundred or a thousand die after them.
That's a variation on the point John Kerry once made about Vietnam, and it's a variation on the theme Cindy Sheehan has been articulating about Iraq. Back in Crawford yesterday, Sheehan said her son would want her to be doing what she's doing. "What really hurts me the most is when people say that I am dishonoring Casey by my protest in Crawford," Sheehan writes at the Huffington Post. She said she and her supporters are honoring the dead by working for peace. "I know Casey will be waiting for me when it is my turn," Sheehan writes, "and I know when I finally get there he's going to hug me and say: 'Good job, Mom.'"
Not everyone agrees, of course, and it's not just the know-nothing chickenhawks who say that Casey Sheehan must be spinning in his grave. In Crawford yesterday, the parents of some other fallen soldiers retrieved from Camp Casey crosses bearing the names of their own children. Gregg Garvey, whose son, Justin, was killed in the war, told the Houston Chronicle: "It didn't make me feel good that my son's cross was sitting in a ditch." After Garvey pulled his son's cross out of Camp Casey, he planted it in a small patch of dirt in front of a counter-protest across the way.