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DAVID GELERNTER

Who speaks for Casey Sheehan?

August 19, 2005|DAVID GELERNTER

THIS NATION respects and admires Cindy Sheehan on account of her son's heroic death in Iraq. But the Cindy Sheehan spectacle has been another thing altogether. It's on hold now; perhaps it's over. But the protest echoes.

It's tragic that we don't seem to remember President Lincoln's words at Gettysburg, and Sheehan and her supporters don't either: "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." In the shadow of heroic deeds, words don't count for much. The Gettysburg Address is one of the rare exceptions.

Casey Sheehan's deeds were heroic. By laying down his life for this nation, he delivered the kind of message that is written in blood, that lives forever. Why on Earth would a loving mother choose to refocus the nation's attention onto her words and away from his deeds?

And what was Casey Sheehan's message? It had nothing to do with President Bush. It didn't even have to do with the war, necessarily. It said something much simpler: "I love my country."

His mother seemed intent on drowning out that message. At times she contradicted it. Some news stories about the mother's protest didn't even mention the son's name. In most, he passed through like a butterfly that is gone before you really see it. "Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed in an ambush in Baghdad last year.... " That's all you got; then it was right back to Cindy Sheehan's latest pronouncements.

The real story is brief enough. Casey Sheehan enlisted in the Army in 2000 at age 20. The country was at peace. When he was asked to reenlist four years later, he knew that he would probably be sent to Iraq. He reenlisted anyway. In March 2004, he was sent to Iraq as a mechanic attached to the artillery division of the 1st Cavalry Division. When a convoy was attacked in Sadr City a month later, he volunteered to join the rescue mission -- although he had no obligation to take part in combat. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

Did he intend to say, "I love my country?" Or was he tricked into saying it? He volunteered to reenlist with the war underway -- as an experienced young man, not a teenager. Then he volunteered again, for a dangerous mission above and beyond the call of duty. And one thing more, from his sister, Carly: "That's all he wanted to do was serve God and his country his whole life." (He was a devout Roman Catholic.) What message emerges? What it sounds like to me is: "I devote my life lovingly to my country and my God."

And his mother's message? The FrontPage website noted her comments to a reporter. "The biggest terrorist is George W. Bush." And: "We are waging nuclear war in Iraq, we have contaminated the entire country." And most important: "America has been killing people on this continent since it started. This country is not worth dying for."

I'd love to know what Casey Sheehan thought about this nation on the day he died. The evidence suggests that he would not have agreed with his mother's violently anti-American ideas. But we'll never know for sure.

Yet it's not too late to hear from other Casey Sheehans -- from our soldiers in Iraq, any one of whom might volunteer for a dangerous mission tomorrow. Why don't some of the reporters who spent weeks hanging on Cindy Sheehan's every word tell us what our soldiers are thinking?

Cindy versus Casey Sheehan has posed a stark choice -- a choice this nation will remember long after the Texas vigil: "This country is not worth dying for" versus "all he wanted to do was serve God and his country." Where do our soldiers stand? They have as much right to be heard as Cindy Sheehan.

As for her, she wasn't content with addressing the country; she insisted on addressing the president. But his duty is to act on behalf of the nation, to thank her and console her, not to attend lectures on America's sin. He did meet her, and no doubt he spoke to her in the vein of Lincoln in his famous letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, who lost two sons in the Civil War. "I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."

The news media have done Cindy Sheehan no favor. They only let a grief-stricken mother embarrass herself; it has been painful to watch. It's past time to shift the spotlight back to her brave son and his surviving comrades, where it has always belonged.

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