August 16, 2005

Christoper Hitchens on Cindy Sheehan

Christopher Hitchens weighs in on the Cindy Sheehan protest at Slate.com:

Here is an unambivalent statement: "The moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute."

And, now, here's another:

Am I emotional? Yes, my first born was murdered. Am I angry? Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the army to protect America, not Israel. Am I stupid? No, I know full well that my son, my family, this nation and this world were betrayed by George Bush who was influenced by the neo-con PNAC agendas after 9/11. We were told that we were attacked on 9/11 because the terrorists hate our freedoms and democracy … not for the real reason, because the Arab Muslims who attacked us hate our middle-eastern foreign policy.

The first statement comes from Maureen Dowd, in her New York Times column of Aug. 10. The second statement comes from Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq last year. It was sent to the editors of ABC's Nightline on March 15. In her article, Dowd was arguing that Sheehan's moral authority was absolute.

I am at a complete loss to see how these two positions can be made compatible. 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?

Sheehan has met the president before and has favored us with two accounts of the meeting, one fairly warm and the other distinctly cold. I have no means of knowing which mood reflected her real state of mind, but she now thinks she is owed another session with him, presumably in order to tell him what she asserted to the Nightline team. In pursuit of this, she has set up camp near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, and announced that she will not leave until she gets some more face-time with our chief executive. This qualifies her to be described by Dowd as "a 48-year-old Californian with a knack for P.R." Well, I think I have to concede that if Dowd says you have a knack for PR, you have acquired one even if you didn't have one before. (I am not entirely certain, for example, that the above letter to ABC News would count as a delicate illustration of the said "knack.")

***

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.

***

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.

Interesting column. Read it all.
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