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Coverage by media is important, as is family privacy
The ban on media coverage of the arrival of war casualties has been lifted. This is a good thing.
The decision in 1991 by Bush I to enact this ban was a wrong one. Ostensibly, it was to protect the privacy of the grieving families. Given how strongly the American public reacted to the coffins coming off the C-130s during the Vietnam War, such an outcome was to be expected. It is a lot harder to generate strong feeling when there is nothing tangible to react against.
So, it was not surprising that Bush II would continue the policy during the Iraq War. The anti-war sentiment would have come sooner had coverage been allowed.
The idea that such coverage is disrespectful is just a way to distract from the real purpose: to contain the political fallout. Seeing coffin after flag-draped coffin come out the belly of the plane brings all except the hardhearted to tears. It is a gut punch to the soul to see that and know it means someone’s spouse, child, friend is no more. That a life has been extinguished and will no longer light up life around them.
It is a high cost and the public has the right to demand and expect that the “benefit” or risk is worth this. But, more than that, the public wants to show it cares about those involved. The country has grown in this regard from Vietnam. Those who serve as well as those who make the ultimate sacrifice are worthy of respect and attention.
This can be seen in the streets that are lined with people holding American flags and hands over their hearts as funeral processions and parades go by. It is seen in the act of thanking a service member for defending our country. When the media shows the arrivals of war casualties at Dover Air Force Base, it is allowing everyone in the country to be part of a virtual street where they can watch and express their sorrow over the newly fallen.
The policy that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has promulgated is a good and sensible one. The families are the ones to decide whether the media should be allowed to witness their grief. If they do not want the media around, appropriate arrangements are made to keep those coffins out of view. This puts the choice where it belongs — with the people who are most directly affected by it. And, whatever their choice, it is one to be respected and not questioned.
During the ban, the media got creative in trying to show who these people were who died on our behalf. The Lehrer Report on PBS shows silently the pictures of each military member killed that day. The broadcast station outlets (ABC, CBS, NBC) show who in their community has died, sometimes even interviewing the families. Regardless of the approach, the media did not act like paparazzi. They were respectful. And, for many grieving, the public outpouring of support was something they appreciated.
War is a horrendous undertaking. And those who take up that burden should be recognized. Showing those who come home in a casket is a public acknowledgement of that heroism. It is not something to be hidden away because it makes those in charge uncomfortable with their policy decisions.
Gates made the right decision. It is the family’s call to mourn in public or private, no one else’s.
Val Torrens appears in the CK Reporter the second and fourth Friday of every month.