On Wednesday August 3, President Bush issued a statement in which he made the deaths of American soldiers a key reason for remaining in Iraq:
"We have to honor the sacrifices of the fallen by completing the mission. [So that] the families of the fallen can be assured that they died for a noble cause."
Within minutes, Cindy Sheehan responded:
"We want our loved ones' sacrifices to be honored by bringing our nation's sons and daughters home from the travesty that is Iraq IMMEDIATELY, since this war is based on horrendous lies and deceptions. Just because our children are dead, why would we want any more families to suffer the same pain and devastation that we are? We would like for him to explain this 'noble cause' to us, and plan to ask him why Jenna and Barbara are not in harm's way, if the cause is so noble. If he is not ready to send the twins, then he should bring our troops home immediately. We will demand a speedy withdrawal." (for the full account of this exchange, go here)
In response to his attempt to frame the deaths of more and more soldiers in Iraq, Cindy stole the ball right out of the President's hands. That is to say, she stole "honor" from the President's statement and turned it into the kick-off statement of her protest against the President's policy to stay the course in Iraq.
As the President defined it, "honor" was inaction. To "honor" our fallen soldiers, in the President's view, was to follow blindly the will of a President.
In the way he phrases it, the President has become expert at confusing the idea of "honor" with the idea of "continuing to fight." But in fact, President Bush's definition of "honor" is clear linked to the idea of "completing the mission," not fighting. And since the "mission" or policy in Iraq was conceived, launched and directed in secrecy, nobody will ever know when the "mission" is complete unless the President says so. Hence, "honor" in President Bush's view, is really about giving in completely to his will. To be "honorable" is to not ask questions. If you question me, then you are not honorable. If you criticize my policy, then you are not noble. That is the President's logic.
Cindy Sheehan's initial demand from the President was little more than a request that he define the lofty terms that he uses when he notes the deaths of American soldiers. What is "noble"? What is "honor"?
But rather than just asking for a new definition, she stole the ball--in this case the words "honor" and "noble"--and relocated it to a more visceral, meaningful context: the anguish of America's families.
In Cindy's statement, she defined "honor" as action. She argues that to be "honorable" is to learn from the deaths of our children and to bring them home. One cannot honor our children, she argued, by continuing to pursue a policy that was forged on untruths and deception.
She then built on this initial redefinition by linking the phrase "noble cause" to the idea of the family. This is the most powerful part of Cindy's statement.
If the President's cause is so noble America's families should sacrifice more and more of their children, Cindy asked, why hasn't he asked his children to serve in Iraq?
It's a question that has been asked time and time again of the President, but when asked by a mother who has lost a child in Iraq, this time it had incredible power.
Cindy's tactic of stealing the ball is a valuable lesson to everyone who cares about ending the War in Iraq.
Overall, Cindy launched her protest by redefining key terms that the President has been using to his advantage over the past few news cycles. Because of Cindy Sheehan, the President can no longer use "honor" and "noble cause" in his statements.
but even more importantly, Cindy Sheehan has stolen the crucial frame of "family sacrifice" for the good of the nation.
We owe Cindy a great deal of gratitude for taking this powerful stance.
For months, now, national support for the War in Iraq has been falling because of doubt and anguish from those families who believe deepest in serving their country through the military.
Unlike the war protests of the 1960s that began on college campuses and amongst soldiers returning from Vietnam, the anti-War movement of the 21st Century has begun at the kitchen table. It is not a counter culture movement. Today's anti-War movement begins with the cries of families who believe deeply in military service, who have served for generations and who were proud of the good their children set out to do in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This time, cries against the President's policies in Iraq are rising up from kitchen tables in small towns across America. The power of this new protest movement will not be found in huge protests filled with nameless, faceless masses. The power of this new protest movement will be in the cries of patriotic parents whose belief in the military and whose love for their children is far more powerful than the empty phrases of a President in hiding.
© 2005 Jeffrey Feldman
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