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At Last Minute, USA Today Slaps New Headline on Lousy Editorial
Cindy Sheehan decamps, leaving very mixed messages
Even though the Iraq war is on its way to claiming 2,000 American lives, it has for the past two and a half years seemed disconnected from the lives of many Americans.
Unlike World War II, the whole nation is not involved in the war effort and sacrifices. Unlike in the Vietnam War, when the draft scooped up men from all walks and stations of life, soldiers in Iraq are volunteers who hail largely from small-town and rural America. The human cost of the war is obscured because media access to much of Iraq is difficult, and coverage of the returning dead and wounded is restricted.
Last year, one of those killed was Army Spc. Casey Sheehan. This summer, his mother, Cindy, camped outside President Bush's ranch in Texas for almost two weeks, seeking a meeting with Bush to discuss her son's death. She left Thursday after her mother had a stroke but said she planned to return.
Thanks to heavy, perhaps excessive, television coverage, Cindy Sheehan has become the public face of the grief felt by military families at a time of rising discontent with the war in Iraq. But that image fails to convey the complexities that mirror the war itself.
Sheehan's "cause" has been twisted and co-opted by groups left and right. She by turns has been used by groups such as Moveon.org as a rallying point for anti-war sentiment and demonized by pro-war commentators. She has become a lightning rod, her sorrow all too easy to dismiss.
How, then, to balance the human tragedy of war against the purposes for which it is being fought? Perhaps by looking at the Sheehan family members and the way their grief has been exploited as a microcosm of the nation's angst.
Others in the family bitterly opposed Cindy's stance. In a statement, her sister-in-law — Casey's aunt — said that "the rest of the Sheehan family supports the troops, our country and our president." Cindy's surviving son begged her to come home. It was revealed that her husband had filed for divorce. Their son's death, as in so many families, had strained their marriage rather than, as in others, making it stronger.
Their story shows how a death in Iraq shatters so many more lives. Does the war merit that loss? For much of Casey's family, if not for his mother, his was a sacrifice worth making. And has involved their sacrifice, too. Others need to reach their own conclusions.
Perhaps the greatest sadness is that appreciation of families' grief could help bring a distant war home, and bring the nation and families closer together. As the sad Sheehan saga shows, the opposite is, for now, the case.