Wednesday, August 24, 2005

NPR war propaganda

NPR aired one of the most revolting pieces of propaganda I've ever heard on the network when, on last Thursday's All Things Considered, an open letter by Steven Mansfield to Cindy Sheehan was broadcast.

Here is that letter:

Dear Mrs. Sheehan,

You are in a firestorm of grief, and what must be a disorienting swirl of world attention. For that reason, I will be as brief in my remarks as I hope to be compassionate.

I will not insult you by presuming to know your sorrow.

The loss of a son in armed conflict abroad must be among the most soul-wrenching experiences possible.

You are surely right to rage against the horrors of war, right to demand answers, and right to reach for those of like mind.

I fear though, that what began as a mourning mother's righteous cry for meaning is becoming something that threatens to dishonor Casey's heroism.

Though I mean no disrespect, it is clear you are becoming swept up in a cynical drama that is far afield from the meaning of the war and your son's sacrifice.

From your blogging on Michael Moore's web site, to the pronouncements you feel obligated to make on the cause of Palestine, you risk abandoning the moral high ground of a grieving mother and are in danger of becoming just another fleeting voice on the American pop culture landscape.

The central issue here is not whether George W. Bush meets with you.

The central issue is that when your son volunteered for military service, he placed himself on an altar of sacrifice. Sadly, the ultimate sacrifice was indeed required. Yet he gave himself willingly, as all our soldiers do in this generation, and his death is therefore the noble death of a hero, and not the needlessly tragic death of one accidentally or foolishly taken. What we must understand is that a pledge to military service is a surrender of rights, a surrender of comforts, and potentially, a surrender of life if the nation calls.

What leaves us so stunned at the death of a soldier beyond our grief for a life snuffed out and our personal loss is often our failure to understand the noble calling of the profession of arms and the warrior code that gives this call meaning.

When your son and the thousands like him serving today pledged himself to military service he did not just "join the army." He offered himself to his God and his nation in an act of devotion that has been repeated for centuries. He entered the fellowship of those who offer their lives willingly in service to others. His death, though a horror, was a horror with meaning, willingly engaged.

I cannot know your sorrow. I can urge you though not to allow your son's offering on what Lincoln called the "altar of freedom" to be tainted by the passing parade of trendy causes. I can also [music bed fade in] urge you to live now in the knowledge that your son's passing ennobles our nation just as I trust it will now ennoble you.

With deepest sympathies for your loss,

Steven Mansfield
Author of The Faith of the American Soldier

Not only did I find the letter revolting, but NPR's use of a soft piano for a music bed as Mansfield wrapped up the letter enhanced its false glow of illuminated reason.

My letter to NPR in response to Mansfield:
I have been mulling over a response to the Mansfield open letter to Cindy Sheehan ever since it aired on All Things Considered last Thursday (8/18/05).

I have finally found the words to express my revulsion.

Here, finally, is my reply:

'Revolting' was the first word that came to my mind upon hearing the jingo-dipped open letter to Cindy Sheehan by Steven Mansfield on the August 18th edition of All Things Considered.

Mansfield issued forth a parade of biased metaphors to cast aspersions on Mrs. Sheehan, and to sanctify the Iraq War as something undertaken with a noble, blessed purpose.

Mrs. Sheehan's patient, peaceful vigil to get President Bush to speak to her, and to speak to the nation, more forthrightly about the cause in Iraq, and the steps he is taking to get American lives out of harm's way, was vilified by Mansfield as a "disorienting swirl of world attention," a "cynical drama" which, associated with "trendy causes," "threatens to dishonor" her son.

Mansfield's then launched an imaginative array of euphemisms for death in war, without considering that the rationale for war has seldom in the history of the United States been vindicated by the cause of repelling an attack, or to promote true democracy.

Instead of considering the merits of Mrs. Sheehan's grievance against President Bush for launching an unprovoked war based upon faulty intelligence, if not outright lies, Mansfield buried the issue in the soft glow of propaganda images that would bring tears to the eyes of any Army recruiter.

Casey Sheehan died, said Mansfield, "a noble death of a hero" on "an altar of sacrifice," - "the altar of freedom," – an ancient tradition of sacrifice for God and country repeated for centuries. He wasn't participating in a killing organization. No, the military is a " service to others."

The founders of our nation were so opposed to war that they created a democratic process by which presidents were supposed to adhere – precisely so that our sons and daughters wouldn't have to die for causes that weren't justified. That the Bush administration is, in Iraq, repeating the centuries-old mistake of slaughtering soldiers for a cause that we now know wasn't justified, and that a majority of Americans don't support, should provide no comfort to Mrs. Sheehan, nor to the rest of America.

To the contrary, Mr. Mansfield is himself trapped in a "disorienting swirl" of ill-placed mystique about war. Notwithstanding his pronouncement that Casey Sheehan "gave himself willingly," no one can truly know if Casey Sheehan himself thought so as he drew his last breaths. Were he here today, we could ask Casey Sheehan if he really thought the career, the money, the honor, were worth the loss of his own life, the missed opportunities to live a more complete life, filled with all the joys that those who do not die in combat can appreciate.

No Mr. Mansfield. You don't speak for Casey Sheehan. No one can. That is the great tragedy of war – that those who perish can never speak for themselves of the lives and the families they will never see. Casey Sheehan and his fallen brothers and sisters will never have the chance to answer for themselves if the cause for which they died was truly worth the sacrifice, although Mr. Mansfield, and many others like him, will attempt to speak for them as though they know the true cost borne by those soldiers.


At 8/24/2005 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Ms Bees Knees said...

Well put. *claps hands*

At 8/24/2005 02:44:00 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I'll second the "well put," and also note that Cindy Sheehan has essentially responded herself--in a general sense--here.

Here's more general news.

Dismissal of Sheehan seem to fall into one of two categories--those throwing buckets of slime, and those suggesting she's being "duped." Neither stands the laff test (although Ms. Sheehan certainly shows unbelievable strength--she's not letting them get to her, thank heavens).

And again, thanks for writing to NPR and posting your own letter.

At 8/24/2005 03:41:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Blush...bow...falling on face.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Sure that's not a typo ms bees knees? Did you perhaps mean "clasps hands"?

At 8/24/2005 07:52:00 PM, Blogger Mixter said...

Excellent reply, Schroeder. I don't listen to All Things Considered any more, so I missed that. Thank goodness.


At 8/25/2005 03:50:00 PM, Blogger Rob said...

That was a sickening letter (his); great response. What's irked me lately is the resurgence of militaristic death-cult speech. It's enough of a stretch to say that a Marine killed in Fallujah died "for us" (and that's not to diminish said Marine's work or intentions) but people like this poor confused soul turn any and all military deaths into "sacrifice" to some god called "freedom," and it's starting to have the whiff of Bin Laden's rotten suicide-for-paradise logic about it.

At 8/25/2005 07:09:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

It's always been like that. All Quiet on the Western Front is what I recalled as I listened to the language Mansfield was using - all of the images of noble sacrifice, of warrior heros, of going off to save the country, of saving our families from the huns, japs, commies, terrorists. It's all a bunch of white knight crap. When people are asked to sacrifice their lives, they ought to be told the truth - that's the minimum expectation. Damn those who dress up their lies with fairy tales.


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