Tuesday, September 30, 2003

HE WAS PROBABLY A HERO WHEN HIS TITLE WAS "DAD"
Last week, I wrote an entry entitled "RIP Christopher's Dad" about an area man who killed in Iraq. The local paper published a large front page photo of his little 9 year old boy, in a shirt and tie, wearing his father's bars, breaking down in tears. This morning, the paper's editor was on a public radio show talking about the story and reaction to it. The decision to publish the photo was controversial as some people felt it was like an invasion of privacy. Although the funeral was public (and had military honors), the decision to publish wasn't unanimous even within the newsroom. The photo certainly evoked powerful emotions. Even after having read the paper the first time in the morning when I looked long and hard at the photo, I picked it up again at the coffee shop that evening and just stared at the photo for a few minutes. It was the saddest thing I've ever seen published in our paper.

In other photos of the funeral that ran in the local section, the caption read something like, "It was the homecoming of a former basketball hero. But first and foremost, of a soldier." I disagreed with that. The front page image, and even those photos the caption was referring to, drove home that he was first and foremost a father and husband. A soldier was his job, and one he apparently performed with honor and courage. But who will have stronger memories of him, someone at the Pentagon or his wife? Will his little boy remember him as "staff sergeant" or as "dad"? I bet the little boy thought of him as a hero long before he was in Army.

Maybe if we considered our combat troops are not just "heros" and "troops" but also someones' sons, husbands and fathers, we might be less casual about where and in what circumstances we volunteer them to risk their lives. And to extend that further, maybe if we thought of civilians caught in the crossfire of conflict not just as "collateral damage" but as someones' children, spouses and parents, then war might rightly lose some of its glamor. The photo reminds us that the consequences of war affect not just far away lands and people with funny sounding names.

At times, war may be necessary, but we should never be enthusiastic about it. To get psyched about something that will inevitably result the death of unarmed civilians is sickening and obscene. Say that you think we have no other option, but don't be happy about it. Don't be excited to "kick [insert demon]'s ass" because the demon is always going to be the least likely to get hurt. Get all gung ho about the Super Bowl, not about making people refugees dependent on foreigners' charity. Not about making orphans.

We should celebrate creation, not destruction (even if we think that destruction is a necessary evil). Maybe one day, people who dig wells in Burkina Faso or work with street children orphaned in Guatemala will get their ticker tape parade down central Manhattan.

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