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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Andy Martin challenges President Bush: “Throw open the gates of Arlington Cemetery”

Martin says we should honor our fallen heroes in public, not private, ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery. He says “fixed bayonets” have always galvanized, not diluted, public support for war.

Executive Editor

“Factually Correct, Not
Politically Correct”





(NEW YORK)(April 25, 2008) In 2002 and 2003 I marched against the Iraq invasion. I wrote columns protesting the insanity of invading a nation that was no threat to the United States. And the last thing I want to do now is advise the Bush Administration how to build public support for the war.

But some remarks by Dana Milbank today in the Washington Post convinced me that the Pentagon (and Bush officials) have even managed to mangle death itself. They have underestimated Americans and undersold their own policies. They have ignored the lessons of history and human nature.

Milbank’s point is that the Pentagon obstructs access to military funerals even when the family invites media coverage. The Pentagon and Bush administration, squeamish about death, want to protect the American people from the reality of war. The controversy over photographing flag-draped-coffins coming home from Iraq has never left us.

But human psychology is exactly the opposite of what the Bushies estimated. We are losing a sanitized war; Americans would have been much more likely to support a bloody conflict.

Since the times of Homer and the Greeks, conflict has ennobled those who sacrifice for their fellow citizens. And nations since ancient Greece have honored their fallen heroes in public. There is no shame in a military funeral; there is nothing to be afraid of in a flag-draped coffin. These men and women died for us. Had I fallen for our flag, I would want to be remembered in public, not buried in private in a furtive ceremony.

Other than perhaps a few of Barack Obama’s closest supporters (William Ayers and Mrs. Ayers?), most Americans would have been outraged, not frightened, to see what the enemy was doing to our men and women. Rather than recoiling, most Americans would have been strengthened in their resolve. It is a universal human instinct to be strengthened, not weakened, by the sight of death and sacrifice. The Bush administration got it all wrong, and all backwards. (Is it any wonder they bungled the policy as well?)

The Korean War movie “Fixed Bayonets” catalogs men “left behind” for the greater good. We are drawn to soldiers who are asked to sacrifice. The subject of Milbank’s comments, Lt. Col. Billy Hall, was not only a hero who surrendered his life for every American. He apparently was a Marine who believed in the mission.

Many thousands of military men and women believe in our mission. They don’t believe in the war. They don’t believe in the ill-fated invasion. But they believe we have to clean up the mess and put things back together before we can leave. This is a very reasonable anti-war position, shared even by columnists. As David Ignatius says today in the Washington Post, “A real Iraq debate would begin by recognizing that however mistaken the war may have been, it won't be an easy mistake to fix.” And every day we ask young men and women to volunteer to serve. So they can be buried in shameful secrecy for their ultimate sacrifice?

If George Bush had been shrewd, and if he and his civilian cohorts in the White House, the “brave warriors” I called “pasty-faced weenies” on the national security staff, had really understood the American character, and had really understood our glorious fighting men and women, they would have thrown open the gates of Arlington Cemetery and opened the doors of the transport planes to the coffins, and said “See, this is what the enemy has done.” The “fixed bayonets” of the American people would have even more heartily supported what was initially a flawed policy and what is now a policy of repair and remediate before removal. (Note: I only support “open gates” with the family’s permission.)

But because Bush & Co. did not understand the American people, and were afraid to present the face of death, they forfeited a great share of the public support that could have been theirs (thank God). The Washington Post presents a periodic running catalog of photographs of our fallen, despite that paper’s opposition to the prolonged conflict. Should we be scared of the photographs? Of course not.

Today, there are few Americans who support the original invasion. But there are very many Americans that realize however flawed the invasion was, the withdrawal must not leave chaos in its wake. That is why John McCain is a contender for the White House despite his support for a continuation in Iraq. He understands character. To begin with, in 2003? Iraq was not worth the life of a single American soldier. Today, we must respect, admire, honor and love the men and women who are literally “keeping the lid on” and buying time for sanity to germinate in the Middle East. There is no guarantee than sanity will come to Baghdad, any more than we can guarantee that sanity will return to Washington in 2009, but men and women are sacrificing their lives to the American cause. We owe them.

At the very least President Bush and the Pentagon owe these heroes public funerals and public access on family request, so that we can honor our dead. It’s scary to think how much more public support George Bush could have built for his Iraq policies if he had only thrown open the gates of Arlington Cemetery and opened the doors of the planes bringing home our honored dead in 2003. He didn’t.

President Reagan said “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev.” I have a challenge for President Bush and Secretary Gates: “Throw open the gates of Arlington Cemetery, and throw open the doors of the planes bringing home our heroes.” That is the least we can do to honor their sacrifice. Publicly honor them.
Chicago's Number One Internet columnist, broadcaster and media critic, Andy Martin, is the Executive Editor and publisher of © Copyright by Andy Martin 2008. Martin covers regional, national and world events with more than forty years of experience. He is a chronicler of all things Midwestern and the authentic Voice of Middle America. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. He has been a candidate for U. S. Senator from Illinois. Comments? E-mail: Media contact: (866) 706-2639. Columns also posted at; [Editing note: we make typos, and e can’t recall every posting or e-mail; corrections to a column are usually found on our blogs and web site.]


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