Q: What’s worse than the death of your child?
- A: Your child dying in an unjust faux-patriotic charade of a “war” founded on fear-mongering lies and calculated deception.
Q: What can make your grief over this unbearable loss even worse?
- A: Having the perpetrators of the tragedy use your child’s death as an excuse and justification for the deaths of countless more people’s children.
- A: Being told that by demanding accountability from the people who caused your child’s death, you are dishonoring his life and everything for which he stood.
- A: Having your fitness as a parent and spouse questioned, flayed, dissected, and ultimately dismissed before a national television audience.
There are of course a lot more answers to that second question, and Cindy Sheehan endured all of them with strength and dignity and an unshakable courage. She did not start the anti-Iraq War movement, but she certainly lit a fire under it by forcing it into the pages of newspapers across the country and onto prime-time TV network news. Her stance in Crawford, Texas heightened the visibility (and therefore increased the support) of groups such as Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace (of which Sheehan is a founding member), and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (formerly Operation Truth).What happened there in Crawford gave people across the country a nucleus around which to rally. It finally forced the beginning of a real national discussion (if not a debate, exactly) about the US invasion of Iraq: Why did we go there in the first place, and why the hell are we still there now? Prior to Sheehan being in Crawford, the pundits, the corporate media, and with a few notable exceptions, the politicians, had been successful in seeing to it that this discussion never took place on a national scale.
For all the good that came out of the protest in Crawford, I feel that strategically a golden opportunity was lost.
When Cindy Sheehan went to Crawford, she had just one question for the President: what was the “noble cause” for which her son died. When I first heard about this, I was elated. As badly as I felt for Ms. Sheehan that she’d lost her son to this travesty of a “war”, I was rejoicing in what she was doing: forcing America to recognize at least some of the impact and consequences of our actions in Iraq in a way that could not be ignored. It put a tangible, undeniable face to the deaths and casualties of U.S. soldiers, something that had been painstakingly and meticulously hidden from the American view lest we get our delicate sensibilities upset…and start asking questions.
The tragic beauty of the “What noble cause?” question is that the politicians could not escape it, could not triangulate it, and could not re-frame it without their doing so being glaringly exposed as a cowardly dodge. In August 2005, the talking points for why we went into Iraq were shifting faster than the drivers at the Indy 500, but this “what noble cause?” question was something Bush and Company could not shift away from.
I began to worry about the reports I was hearing when more and more people joined Cindy in Crawford. As the protest morphed into a “Bring the troops home now” movement, it appeared to be moving away from its greatest strength: demanding an answer to the question “what noble cause?”
In August 2005, America wasn’t ready to embrace a “Bring the Troops Home Now” movement. Too many people still believed we had to stay in Iraq to prevent “all hell breaking loose” (as if it hadn’t already), prevent a civil war (barn door, horse gone), because we “owed it” to the Iraqis to try to clean up the mess we created (fire, add gasoline), or so the soldiers who died would not have died in vain (because death can only be validated by more death). But what America was ready for was an answer to Cindy Sheehan’s original question: what was the “noble cause” for which her son died? And as that question gave way to cries of “bring the troops home”, the relief of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and all the other hawks and neocons was palpable. The Post- Sept. 11th era had cemented the final conflating of the words “peace” and “anti-war” with the concepts of “surrender” and “weak” in the corporate media and in the minds of mainstream America. It was an easy feat to marginalize the protesters in Crawford as extremist lefty America-hating wackos. Having been freed from the noose of the “noble cause” question, Bush and Company resumed their familiar positions firmly back on the offensive.
Or, (to put it in truly apt baseball terminology), just like when a starting pitcher having an incredibly bad game escapes being tagged with a loss, they “spit the hook”.
Even after it was clear we’d lost our best chance to stay on the offensive due to the deemphasizing of the “noble cause” question , there was still hope in Cindy Sheehan’s meeting with Arizona Senator John McCain. Strategically speaking, it was essential that no matter what else was said in that meeting regarding bringing the troops home, Cindy had to ask that question, right to his face, and not back down until she got an answer.
But alas, apparently it did not happen. After the meeting, McCain was quoted as saying, “We just have fundamental disagreements.” USA Today reported the following:
Sheehan’s conference with McCain was one of several scheduled this week as part of her campaign to persuade members of Congress to explain the reasons for the war.
Explain the reasons for the war? Ha! That’s easy, there’s a million of them. It’s a neocon’s wet dream to get asked that question. It’s flabby and nebulous and you can take it wherever the hell you want to take it. “What’s the noble cause my son died for?” – now that’s pinpoint. It’s the tip of a dagger. It’s inescapable. Any possible answer is easily exposed for the bullshit it is:
- The noble cause was protecting our freedom.
Really? How so?
- The noble cause was freeing the Iraqis.
Really? Because that’s not what you told us going in.
Don’t get me wrong. I was all for bringing the troops home in August 2005. But it’s important to see and understand the bigger picture of any given situation, know what the strongest card you’re holding is, and then play the holy hell out it. And I’m not talking about Cindy Sheehan specifically here, but the strategy of the larger protest that sprung up around her. It would have been sweet had there been more people down there thinking, “We’ve got these fuckers up against the wall, now let’s keep them there”. But that means getting into strategy and message discipline, and protests like that don’t really lend themselves to a focused strategy or message discipline. To be fair, focused strategy and message discipline aren’t exactly liberal strong points in any situation (*sigh*). So I guess what this all comes down to is me observing a very good thing (Camp Casey) and concluding it could have been just a little bit better.
Yesterday Cindy Sheehan announced she was retiring from the Peace Movement. Good for you, Cindy. Go home, rest, regenerate, enjoy being with your family. And then come back, we need you. Or don’t. If you stay “retired”, we’ll certainly understand. Lord knows you’ve given and sacrificed more than you ever should have had to. But before you go, let me add my voice to those sincerely thanking you for all you’ve done, and for inspiring others to take action as well.
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