War and remembrance

May 02, 2004

THE 1964 anti-war movie The Americanization of Emily makes the case that raising the nobility of war dead perpetuates war. The more we honor our fallen soldiers, widow Julie Andrews comes to realize in the Paddy Chayefsky-scripted film, the more a society is willing to sacrifice.

Fast-forward 40 years and three wars. Two days ago, seven ABC affiliates dropped the news program Nightline under orders from owners of the Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group who didn't like the TV program's plan to read the names of servicemen and women killed in Iraq. Why? Sinclair thought it betrayed an anti-war bias.

So which is it? Is recognizing those who have made the ultimate sacrifice anti-war or pro-war? Is it liberal or conservative? Patriotic or unpatriotic?

Or is it quite possibly nothing more than what it is: a roll call to memorialize our losses, the sons and daughters who died serving the nation?

In choosing to censor Ted Koppel, officials at Sinclair have betrayed a public trust. They've raised serious doubts about their fitness as both disseminators of news and as good citizens of their communities. And worst of all, they've dishonored our fallen troops.

War deaths are the aching sacrifice a society must be willing to make to defend itself. Whether one agrees with this nation's foreign policy or not, these young soldiers deserve to be honored. There was a call to arms. These are the people who heard that call and subsequently lost their lives.

When did this society fall so far that anyone would think it right to hide from us our losses? Or trivialize them? The White House refuses to let the nation witness the returning war dead. The haunting image of flag-draped coffins respectfully shepherded home on a plane gets a photographer summarily fired. Shamefully, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, a central architect of Iraq policy, has even lost track of the numbers. He told a congressional committee last Thursday that "approximately 500" Americans had died in Iraq. His office had to file a correction: He was off by 226.

Make no mistake, we have grave doubts about this administration's policy in Iraq. But we do not doubt the nation's desire - its instinctive need - to pay tribute to its fallen troops. In public squares, in churches and government buildings, on college campuses and in veterans cemeteries, the names of the nation's war dead are so memorialized. May they, and those who have died in Iraq, never be forgotten.

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