It was inevitable. Because the next presidential election is in 2004, we can expect everything that happens in 2003 to be as politicized as possible. The good will be emphasized, highlighted and repeated over and over in the news and on the White House lawn. The bad will be lessened, rationalized and swept under the rug before anyone will notice. That's just 'business as usual' when we're talking about controversial presidential speeches and policy blunders. But when we're talking about a major war, then it's atrocious. And that's what we've been doing, we've been sweeping the dead under the rug.
We have been fighting a brutal war in Iraq since March. I know, it doesn't seem like it's been that long. It's hard to imagine that our troops have been occupying hostile and mostly unwelcoming territory for the last eight months, and it doesn't look like the days are getting any brighter. The war is supposedly calming down. Admittedly for the hawks, the Bush administration had to come out and tell us that the picture isn't exactly how we thought it was painted. Saddam Hussein, now according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had nothing to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But Hussein has always been a threat to us, at least according to Colin Powell's 'map of weapons sites', so we nodded our heads and supported our leaders. Bush is still favored over every democratic presidential challenger, even though both Saddam Hussein and Usama bin Laden are still at large.
The peaceniks on the left are slowly receding. The war in Iraq has become custom. We're used to hearing about the casualties, and how we can't go a week without hearing about a fallen soldier or two. And just last weekend, we had the deadliest strike against the American troops since the invasion commenced last March, as 16 of our finest soldiers perished when a Chinook helicopter was shot down in the worst ambush by enemy forces we've seen this year.
"It's clearly a tragic day for America," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in Washington. "In a long, hard war, we're going to have tragic days. But they're necessary. They're part of a war that's difficult and complicated."
And that's all those 16 men will get; a disclaimer from our defense secretary who assured us that tragic days simply happen in war. President Bush, who is currently at his Texas ranch, refused to personally comment on the attacks.
When the bodies are finally recovered, they will be flown back to the United States in coffins draped by the American flag. It's a tradition to honor those killed in action, and it's a good start. But what is soon to follow, proves just how political the war has become.
Back in March, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases, as the Washington Post reported: "There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase or Dover [Del.] base, to include interim stops," the Defense Department said, referring to the major ports for the returning remains.
Few have been critical over the order that prevents press coverage of the dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases. "This administration manipulates information and takes great care to manage events, and sometimes that goes too far," said Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary who joined President Bill Clinton at several ceremonies for returning remains. "For them to sit there and make a political decision because this hurts them politically -- I'm outraged."
It is understandable that presidents fear losing support in their war efforts when the people get to see the flag-draped caskets of U.S. soldiers arriving at air bases. Such images tell the grisly truth about war, how people die, as young as 18, and will never return home alive to their families. But presidents should not be so consumed by their political ambitions that they would prevent possible opposition to the war by not allowing the soldiers their due respect once they've been killed.
However, things aren't so bad for those who've made it home alive. "War hero" Pfc. Jessica Lynch was given a national homecoming (with press coverage) and high honors; a purple star for being wounded in combat, and a bronze star for meritorious service in combat. Now I didn't emphasize "war hero" because I mean to patronize Ms. Lynch. After all, she is truly a brave soldier who was willing to give her life in the name of America and freedom. I am forever grateful for her service. I emphasized "war hero" because I don't know if she really is one. If she's a war hero, then so are the 20 soldiers who've earned their purple hearts in that helicopter crash that killed 16 of their brethren.
But you won't see an elaborate homecoming for those individuals because that would bring attention to the most tragic day of the war. Remember it: November 02, 2003, because you won't be hearing much about it as we head into a week of possible distractions such as the improving economy guaranteed to give President Bush a few more points to his dismal ratings. As I write this, nearly 20 soldiers and possibly more have died on this year's Bloody Sunday. And when their bodies are flown back to America, don't expect a reception, tribute or homecoming, because this administration won't allow it.
Jessica Lynch, who has bagged a $1 million deal for her book, "I'm a Soldier, Too," isn't getting all this attention plus a Diane Sawyer interview just because she's a woman. POW Specialist Shoshana Johnson received no book deal since her rescue similar to Lynch's, and she's receiving 30 percent disability compared to Lynch's 80 percent, according to Johnson's family.
When a soldier is captured and released from war, he has the potential to become a national hero and a rich one at that. When a soldier is killed in the line of duty, he is collected, boxed up, sent home to be forgotten.
The Iraq war has become a sick game of politics where the living are exploited and used to paint a positive image for the blind Americans unaware of the little progress that has been accomplished. The deceased have become disposable news bits, where after their name is mentioned in an Associated Press report (if that), they are quickly given their coffin-draped flag, then swept under the rug because we are not allowed to see these brave men and women in their final moments; before they are given a funeral for their families and finally buried into the ground.