Maj. Andrew Olmsted, among the military bloggers in combat, was killed Thursday in Iraq. He left behind an “if I die” post for friends to distribute if necessary. It is a fascinating read. In death, the major challenges Americans to grieve if we must, celebrate if we can, but do NOT use his death as an argument for or against U.S. military presence in Iraq.
I do ask (not that I’m in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn’t a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don’t drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don’t cite my name as an example of someone’s life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I’m not around to expound on them I’d prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn’t support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I’d prefer that you did so.
I can remember a visit to Washington, D.C. with my folks in the mid-1990s. The three of us strode quietly along the Vietnam Memorial, taking in names and notes and such left behind for people to know that many deaths are still being grieved. My dad had been particularly quiet for 30 minutes or so. Finally, he said, “Every politician and bureaucrat in this town should be required to visit here every day before they go to work and make any decisions or take any actions.”
It’s my dad’s way of saying our elected officials and the professionals in our government failed real people with the decisions they made leading to the Vietnam conflict.
On that day in the late 90s, it seemed as if we’d learned our lessons. General Colon Powell had led us to a successful resolution of Gulf War I. We’d broken the Cold War and Charlie Wilson’s War had sent the Soviets running out of Afghanistan. Life was good.
I was hopeful that Washington was more in touch with personal accountability and less power hungry. So much for my optimism.
Much like other Americans, though, I’m much more inclined to praise and defend the men and woman who represent me on Capitol Hill. I’m just as eager, though, to lambaste unnamed political operatives who care more about employing hardball tactics than actually governing, and caring about “we, the people.”
More than ever, I’m certain my dad is onto something. Let the men and women charged with governing our country — through politics — be required to stand on the tarmac and watch military aircraft unload the flag-draped caskets returning from combat. Let them be required to watch grieving families, and to express their personal condolences. Let them be required to read the writings of our fallen combatants, to learn who they were, who loved them, and why they chose to fight.
Let the political operatives mourn the loss of individuals, then let them carry on a discussion of political tactics versus transparent, genuine communication and sound decisions about governing.