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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 3:36 am | Fair 48º


Mark Shields: Taking the Dover Test

Obama's transparency is refreshing after Bush tried to hide all evidence that our nation is at war.

As of this writing, 4,911 American men and women in military service have died since 2001 in the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In peacetime — in the natural order of things — children bury their parents; in war, parents bury their children. The voice of the young father, now forever stilled, who will never guide the growth of his young daughter is recalled by his widow, his kid sister, his mother.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

An American who lives every single day with the pain of war’s sacrifice said it well: “War is awful. Nothing, not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality. Whatever is won in war, it is loss the veteran remembers.” These are the words of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The civilian leadership of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ignored, dishonored and repealed a genuine American value: War demands equality of sacrifice. All the sacrifice and all the suffering on the U.S. side have been borne by the men and women who volunteered to serve in the military and their loved ones. For the rest of us, we have been asked to pay no price, to bear no burden. These are the first American wars in more than 160 years that the nation has fought without a military draft and with tax cuts.

For all Americans except those who were sent to fight and, possibly, die, the Iraq war was to be ouchless and painless. You will look in vain to find any federal budget item over the past seven years listing or even mentioning the price — in trillions — of that war, because the entire cost has been conveniently buried “off budget.”

The reasoning was pretty basic: If Americans don’t have to worry about the threat of having their children drafted or the inconvenience of any home-front shortages or the imposition of their taxes being raised to pay for the war, then the chances were pretty good — even if the war went bad, as it did — that Americans would not take to the streets in obstreperous protests.

One other precaution to further sedate us noncombatants was taken by the Bush-Cheney folks: Bar all photographic evidence of American fatalities in those wars. Out of sight, out of mind.

You can see President Ronald Reagan publicly grieving as he stood planeside, welcoming home the flag-draped caskets of Marines killed in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. You can see President Bill Clinton openly crying at public ceremonies receiving the remains of U.S. embassy personnel killed in Tanzania and Kenya. But you will find no pictures of the president who started the Iraq war anywhere near the casket or funeral of any of those 4,911 Americans who, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

President George W. Bush did authorize the nationwide display of a flag-draped corpse in 2004. It was the body of a victim being carried from the rubble of the World Trade Center, and that image was used in a television commercial produced and paid for by Bush’s re-election campaign.

In January 2000, the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, gave us a standard by which to determine whether this nation ought to send its sons and daughters into combat. That decision “must be subjected to what I call ‘the Dover test.’ Is the American public prepared for the sight of our most precious resource coming home in flag-draped caskets into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware — which is a point of entry for our armed forces? This is an issue, I think, that should be raised early on. It should be discussed, and it should be decided by our political leadership before any operation begins.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, consistent with the promised transparency and accountability, has decided to allow photos of the flag-draped caskets of American service members. Seven years too late, the country is finally taking the Dover test.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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