By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, September 1, 2005; 10:18 AM
The ongoing saga of the Cindy Sheehan show has raised the specter of service and sacrifice and what it means to give to a "noble cause."
"We have lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom," President Bush told a group of veterans in Salt Lake City earlier this month, referring to the fallen troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home.
"We owe them something.... We will finish the task that they gave their lives for. We will honor their sacrifice by staying on the offensive against the terrorists, and building strong allies in Afghanistan and Iraq that will help us ... fight and win the war on terror."
Increasingly, though, some critics are asking who serves and whether the pain is being shared equally.
This week, the liberal Web site buzzflash.com noted in an unsigned editorial that "not one -- not one -- of any of Bush's children or his nieces and nephews have volunteered for service in any branch of the military or volunteered to serve in any capacity in Iraq. Not one of them has felt the cause was noble enough to put his or her life on the line."
Buzzflash is circulating a petition demanding that "Either the Bush Kids Put Their Lives on the Line for George's 'Noble War' or the Troops Come Home."
Publicity stunt or not, it does raise a question. If the sacrifice is so noble, has the president urged his own children, or enlistment-age nieces and nephews - of which there are eight - to join the military and fight in Iraq?
I called the White House to pose this question and was somewhat surprised to learn that none of the supposed liberal baddies in the White House press corps had ever asked the president or any of his spokespersons that question.
Spokeswoman Dana Perino couldn't find that this question had ever been asked. She said she'd have to check and call back. And she did later Tuesday afternoon with this prepared statement: "There are many ways for people to serve their country and to help make the world a better freer and more peaceful place. The president is grateful to all of those who have answered the call to service whether it's in the military or in another capacity and members of his family have done both."
That didn't really answer the question. But we do know this: First daughter Barbara is currently working in an AIDS clinic in Botswana, while Jenna is teaching inner-city school children in D.C. The president served in the National Guard. And his father, the first president Bush, was a decorated military pilot.
Nonetheless, critics on the left are comparing Bush unfavorably to Franklin Roosevelt, whose four sons served as decorated officers in World War II.
In an ad featuring Cindy Sheehan currently running in heavy rotation across the country, Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, looks into the camera and asks Bush if he knows "how much this hurts. I love my country. But how many more of our loved ones need to die in this senseless war?"
And Sheehan has suggested that if the Iraq cause is so noble, he should send his little "party animals" to serve there.
This is a newer version of the old chickenhawk argument - that is, that the administration is filled with hawks who avoided military service themselves. The current argument focuses on the question of whether children of today's Iraq war supporters are urging their children to fight in a war they deem noble.
Some on the right are defending the president, arguing that the entire issue is just a subterfuge to detract from the left's hatred of the military and distaste for all wars. And Sheehan - who they characterize as a kooky nutball - is just the left's latest spokesperson.
"War is a nasty, grisley business - I'd prefer that women didn't have to endure it," wrote blogsforbush.com. "They are, of course; and I stand in awe of the courage and dedication of our female servicemembers...but trying to make this conservative feel bad about President Bush's daughters not serving in combat is akin to trying to make me feel bad because [m]y 10 year old nephew isn't serving."
Other critics on the right note that lefties didn't demand that President Clinton urge his daughter to enlist when America was fighting wars in the Balkans.
But critics on the political left argue back that Clinton didn't lead the nation into a dubious war based on false premises. And his supporters didn't accuse those who opposed his military actions of being unpatriotic.
They argue that there is an appropriate precedent for asking the question.
"Back in 1993, when Bill and Hillary Clinton moved to Washington, they decided to enroll Chelsea in a private, rather than public, school," Richard Bradley wrote in HuffingtonPost.com. "Because the decision seemed to contradict the Clintons' stated faith in public schools, the press asked the Clintons about that decision, and they had to defend it-publicly. (And unlike the Bush daughters now, Chelsea was a minor.)"
So the Bush twins should be fair game as well, he reasons.
"It's pretty simple, really. The military doesn't have enough soldiers; the president believes that this is a good and just war; he has two daughters who could enlist in the military, but haven't. These things don't add up.
"So here's a question I think a White House reporter should ask the president: President Bush, if your own two daughters won't enlist, how can you expect anyone else's children to join the military?"
The president's children are grown and free to do what they want. It seems absurd to criticize them for not enlisting. But that's not the point, the war's critics say. The question is whether the president urged his daughters, or his other enlistment-age relatives, to join a cause he has described as noble. And the answer to that question is still unknown.
Comments can be sent to Terry Neal at email@example.com .