Lautenberg: Don’t Hide Those Who Have Died in Combat


Tonight, I toasted Senator Frank Lautenberg when I learned that he had sent President Barack Obama a letter asking that the media no longer be blocked from greeting, reporting on, and photographing the returning flag-draped caskets of American service men and women killed in combat abroad. (here is pdf of letter)
The Bush administration, trying to control the temperature of public reaction to caskets arriving at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware cut off media access.
Lautenberg, who deserves our thanks for this, wrote to Obama:

I respectfully urge you to work to bring an end to the misguided policies of the past that seek to hide the sacrifice of our soldiers and the public recognition and pride that should accompany it.

We agree.
— Steve Clemons


10 comments on “Lautenberg: Don’t Hide Those Who Have Died in Combat

  1. alaya says:

    this is a very honourary situation and i greatly honour those women who have served in the military and have sacrficed their lives for us. may god bless all of the families who have lost their loved ones and i keep all of you in my prayers. again thank you so much and may god bless


  2. rich says:

    I don’t consider Lautenberg and Biden mumbling into their soup to be “effectively raising this issue.” I call it being neutered.
    Public access to a public proccess in no way suggests establishing a circus and selling peanuts and hot dogs. It’s not difficult to set up a process that preserves the privacy and dignity of families while establishing access.
    Have the coffins visible to cameras as they come off the plane at a distance, but then go into an enclosed space where families can receive them and grieve in private. Use pool photographers. Cemeteries and would then also be open.
    Appreciate the point of view of military families; at the same time, when you say “the milblogs are in an uproar today about Ed Henry’s question to President Obama. The general consensus seems to be that the ban should remain in place, that ‘liberal’ media” will use it for propaganda, I can’t summon much sympathy. They do not own this issue, nor do they own the decision to go to war, nor freedom of the press. We don’t need a spectacle; many folks also have a militaristic agenda that doesn’t serve anyone well. This country by definition is about civilian rule over the military. Our duty to honor them has to be reciprocated, with a similar duty to that principle. That we honor our soldiers has to be recognized. Or should we all admit this was a private army after all, and not just a volunteer one?


  3. Pacos_gal says:

    Rich, of course all matters of debate in regard to a war and to our soldiers lives should be done in the light of day. As you said, it does matter.
    I would point out that Frank Lautenberg has not “just now gotten his voice” on this issue. He has been raising this issue since at least 2004, as has Joe Biden.
    My point is that you can honor privacy for the family and still honor the soldier. Everything doesn’t have to be on the table for display, but neither does it need to be hidden away. You don’t have to film every coffin, nor do you need to have pictures of the equipment that arrives with them. Just keep things simple and dignified.
    I would on the other hand like to point out that many military members, family members, etc, are against a change in policy. So any family member who specifically does not want media, should have the right to deny it. The milblogs are in an uproar today about Ed Henry’s question to President Obama. The general consensus seems to be that the ban should remain in place, that “liberal” media, will only use it to make a spectacle of a private sorrow. I believe the word propaganda has been used to describe the motivation of lifting the ban at Dover.
    One other thing, is that I would encourage everyone to watch the HBO movie Taking Chance with Kevin Bacon. It will be on Feb 21, 2009 at 8pm.


  4. Bart says:

    I suspect the funerals are hidden because of the effect on recruiting. Otherwise, why might the issue need a study? Now that we are heading toward terrible economic times, the military should have little trouble with recruiting.


  5. rich says:

    Agreed on all counts. If you were responding to the post immediately above, my phrasing — “Bush’s own shame” — does not refuse any honor due to the soldiers. It references the fact that it has become clear George Bush had to be aware of what he’d done — lied the country into war — and that hiding the returning bodies was not just done to evade the political cost. He could not face up to it.
    And that inability precluded families from receiving their loved ones, coming to grips with the enormity of it, and honoring them as every family must. The denial of ritual by a faceless state, just to save one man’s face, speaks volumes. A bureaucracy refuses these human needs and informal rituals; this is the kind of behavior that motivated Americans to denounce and combat Stalinism.
    You raise a critical point: when American officials cannot bring themselves to debate the merits of hard evidence for war in the light of day (including classified intel), discuss whether the cause is just and determine if the nation is at risk, and then vote on a Congressional Declaration of War, then they should not be in office. To do otherwise undermines our national security and has no honor: as we’ve seen in Vietnam and Iraq, it puts our soldiers in the meatgrinder of situations that are always already untenable, with disastrous results.
    We can honor the soldiers that must contend with these difficult and impossible circumstances. But it is NEVER too much to ask Senators and Representatives to fulfill the formal process of declaring war, rather than short-circuiting the process for an (ir)resolution, which capitulates their mandated power and their sacred obligation to the executive branch.
    It matters. That was the error. It is the difference between undertaking a just cause and defeating an authentic military threat or liberating a country–and fighting a hostile population that’s summoning all its resources to oppose American forces that’ve assumed the role of occupier. Jay Garner could’ve held elections immediately after liberating Iraq; he was removed so Bremer & Kissinger Associates could implement a very different agenda of shattering Iraq civil society from top to bottom.
    It matters because not understanding the difference between liberation and occupation at the Congressional level, and acting accordingly, has on-the-ground consequences for our men and women in uniform:
    We know Iraq was a meatgrinder of equal proportion.
    Yes, we honor their sacrifice, absolutely and without question. I respectfully submit, however, that not all involved at the decision-making and administrative level acted with honor (out of uniform or not).
    Unless our American policy ‘elites’ come to terms with this dynamic, we won’t be able to recover the value and practice of the central political insights of our Founders.


  6. Cee says:

    I am pleased to read this. I was upset about this the other evening too and argued with several people about how important it was.
    We didn’t accept it when Bush was in office and shouldn’t accept it from Obama.
    There are people in this country who think that the war in Iraq is over.
    They need to see the reality.


  7. Pacos_gal says:

    I don’t think that when a soldier and their family have made the ultimate sacrifice that it is anything to be ashamed of. I understand the Bush administration reasoning, but I think it was wrong and more to protect the administration than the soldiers. These soldiers should be honored.
    Here in Canada when a soldier dies, they aren’t hidden away, they are met with dignity and pride when they return. People have stood on the overpasses of the highway or beside the road, waving a flag or just standing quietly as a soldier who has lost their life passes by on their final journey home. That is usually how it is portrayed in the press, “as the final journey home”. It is very moving and not ghoulish at all. It’s a sign of respect that people want and need to be able to give.


  8. rich says:

    This is an important step, and the move also honors those soldiers and their sacrifice.
    Is it a little nuts that Ed Henry only found the the brain cells and cojones to ask the President this question after 8 years? That Frank Lautenberg only now found the voice and decided he should maybe, you know, say something? Is it just me, or are they both asking the wrong guy?
    Should Obama be asked to take the political hit that Bush wouldn’t? I think Obama will come out ahead if he does, but it speaks to the double standard applied. Color me unimpressed by Lautenberg’s and Henry’s newfound concern. Others like Steve have brought it up before.
    Hiding the caskets was a signal of Bush’s own shame; it was a dead giveaway. We needed these voices 5 years ago.
    As for Jim Lehrer, every time he lists our fallen soldiers, I hold his name and the NewsHour in no small part responsible for their deaths; and bitterly.


  9. TonyForesta says:

    While I would not support and do not want a ghoulish MSM feeding frenzy ghoulishly exploiting the dead and maimed in the bushgovs wayward wars of choice, – the American people should be exposed to the horrors and agony of our lost warfighters, and the real human costs of our wars. There is no pretty way to fight wars. Sanitizing these horrible enterprizes diminshes the terrible costs paid by those who serve and thier families. The American people should see and recognize this terrible painful price, but it needs to be done in a respectful way that honors our fallen warfighters, and does not exploit their great sacrifice for one side or another.
    As an example PBS’s Jim Lehrer News Hour honorably displays our fallen photos, and their names, ranks, and commands as their deaths become available through the DOD. It is a haunting and solemn tribute to America’s warfighters who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our name.
    Simply ignoring this terrible truth, is cowardly and patently un-American.


  10. ... says:

    hiding this is also a way of avoiding a recognition of what’s going on, trying to take the ugliness of war away from the publics gaze, as they might grow weary of it more quickly… the bush admins contempt for the american people was very great.. this was one more area where it was apparent..


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