Cindy Sheehan’s Special Speech
Christopher Hitchens is none too impressed with the implicit claim that, because her son was killed in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan has any more right to be heard than the rest of us.
Sheehan has obviously taken a short course in the Michael Moore/Ramsey Clark school of Iraq analysis and has not succeeded in making it one atom more elegant or persuasive. I dare say that her “moral authority” to do this is indeed absolute, if we agree for a moment on the weird idea that moral authority is required to adopt overtly political positions, but then so is my “moral” right to say that she is spouting sinister piffle. Suppose I had lost a child in this war. Would any of my critics say that this gave me any extra authority? I certainly would not ask or expect them to do so. Why, then, should anyone grant them such a privilege?
There are, in fact, some principles involved here. Any citizen has the right to petition the president for redress of grievance, or for that matter to insult him to his face. But the potential number of such people is very large, and you don’t have the right to cut in line by having so much free time that you can set up camp near his drive. Then there is the question of civilian control over the military, which is an authority that one could indeed say should be absolute. The military and its relatives have no extra claim on the chief executive’s ear. Indeed, it might be said that they have less claim than the rest of us, since they have voluntarily sworn an oath to obey and carry out orders. Most presidents in time of war have made an exception in the case of the bereaved–Lincoln’s letter to the mother of two dead Union soldiers (at the time, it was thought that she had lost five sons) is a famous instance–but the job there is one of comfort and reassurance, and this has already been discharged in the Sheehan case. If that stricken mother had been given an audience and had risen up to say that Lincoln had broken his past election pledges and sought a wider and more violent war with the Confederacy, his aides would have been quite right to show her the door and to tell her that she was out of order.
Finally, I think one must deny to anyone the right to ventriloquize the dead. Casey Sheehan joined up as a responsible adult volunteer. Are we so sure that he would have wanted to see his mother acquiring “a knack for P.R.” and announcing that he was killed in a war for a Jewish cabal? This is just as objectionable, on logical as well as moral grounds, as the old pro-war argument that the dead “must not have died in vain.” I distrust anyone who claims to speak for the fallen, and I distrust even more the hysterical noncombatants who exploit the grief of those who have to bury them.
One can empathize with Sheehan’s grief and even forgive her histrionics. All are entitled to spew forth some piffle now and again, especially those who have suffered a great loss. Nonetheless, Hitchens is right: Her tragedy does not make her opinion any more valuable.
The fact that Casey Sheehan volunteered for the Army does not take away Cindy Sheehan’s right to be angry. A parent’s attachment to their kids transcends logic. My dad truly resented the first President Bush for sending me to the first Iraq War–and he was a Vietnam vet who served over twenty years in the same Army I volunteered for.
Hitchens’ point about “civilian control of the military” is perhaps a bit strained but nonetheless a good one. Indeed, the “Cindy Sheehan lost a son, so she has more authority than you” argument is essentially just a variant on the “Chickenhawk” meme Hitchens and I have both written about extensively (see below).
via Michelle Malkin, who had much more on the Sheehan saga.