No one can deny that it was a spectacular event. The war in Iraq was over. "Victory" was at hand. And President Bush, looking like a warrior clad in a flight suit and helmet, welcomed the returning troops and spoke to the nation about the sacrifices made by all.
The majesty of the moment was quickly tarnished, however, when the President's critics took aim at the entire episode. Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), for example, said, "American blood has been shed on foreign soil in defense of the President's policies. This is not some made-for-TV backdrop for a campaign commercial."
Press secretary Ari Fleischer replied to the critics by stating, "More than 100 Americans paid the ultimate price to defend our country [a ridiculously low figure since we have been burying several right here in our own area, but then he did say, "more than 100."], and the President is proud to have visited the USS Abraham Lincoln to say 'thank you' in person."
At the time, we felt that the carrier landing was a photo op gone wild. We did, however, agree that our soldiers deserved our thanks.
We still believe this. That is why we are outraged at a new Pentagon directive that prevents us from covering those soldiers who have given their lives in service to the nation. This Pentagon directive bans all news coverage of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases. Images of flag-draped coffins on board military cargo planes, in short, are no longer allowed.
This ban reverses a long-standing tradition of allowing photographic news coverage of those who were killed in action. From the end of the Vietnam War to the present, countless images have been made of our fallen soldiers' final journey home. The military has allowed media coverage of soldiers who fell in Grenada, Panama, Beirut, Kenya, Afghanistan, and other locales. Ceremonies honoring the soldiers have ranged from the single to the elaborate. Presidents have spoken at Dover, Andrews, Ramstein, and other military bases, pinning Purple Hearts on coffins and expressing the nation's gratitude for the soldiers' sacrifice.
Images of our fallen soldiers' return home give all of us an opportunity to mourn their loss and an opportunity to honor their ultimate sacrifice. No complete story of any war can be told without these images.
This ban must be lifted. Our warriors must not be treated like props for political statements when times are good and like the invisible dead when times are bad.