Obama: Honor Our Fallen Heroes -- And the Constitution
President Barack Obama, who recently asked for a policy review relating to the 1991 ban on news coverage regarding the remains of fallen service members, should keep in mind that he is not only commander in chief of the military but, more importantly, president of all the people of the United States.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has announced that he has lifted the 1991 ban on news coverage and will allow families of the fallen service members to decide whether they will allow press coverage.
The president seems to be forgetting that press coverage of the military concerns all Americans, not just the military, and not even just the families of the fallen heroes.
We’ve had one president who virtually ignored the U.S. Constitution, we don’t need another. The first amendment of that document was written to protect the basic rights of all Americans, including the right to a free press.
There may be military “secrets” that call for certain military activities be conducted stealthily, but the transportation of the flag-draped coffins of fallen service members should not be one of them.
Criticism of the press is a tactic often employed by anti-democratic proponents who find it difficult to perform their skullduggery in the open. There’s no substitute for freedom of the press as a means of keeping government, and the military, open and above board.
The initial ban on press coverage was created under President H.W. Bush after split-screen TV embarrassed the Administration when the president was shown joking while, simultaneously, a solemn ceremony for the fallen troops was pictured at Dover Air Force Base, the destination of the flag-draped coffins.
The military, of course, does not want Americans to see our war casualties. Neither did the Bush Administrations. The “living room war” in Vietnam, which we watched to a great extent on television, was largely responsible for the strong anti-war sentiment in that era, and both military leaders and politicians would prefer to put a much rosier face on our wars.
Despite the ban, both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush made exceptions when it was expedient. Clinton allowed photographs of coffins of U.S.S. Cole casualties arriving at Dover, and Bush released a photo of the arrival of the remains of victims in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The ban was restated, expanding the prohibition, in 2003 when Iraq was invaded.
President Obama’s new look at the ban is the result both of lawsuits and the opinions and concerns expressed by military families.
Secretary Gates has decided that the families, “those most directly affected,” should make the decision regarding media coverage.
“We ought not presume to make that decision in their place.” Gates told reporters. He believes these decisions should be made “on an individual basis by the families of the fallen.”
Gates, noting his decision came after taking into account the reaction of the military families and groups that represent them, said a group of advisers will develop a plan to implement the new policy.
Neither Secretary Gates, nor President Obama, has indicated any consideration of the U.S. Constitution or the long-held tradition in the United States of freedom of the press.
No one who favors press coverage of the flag-draped coffins arriving home has anything but respect for the fallen heroes and their families. It is because of that respect that it is essential to respect the U.S. Constitution and maintain our freedom of the press tradition.
There is no reason to believe that a free press will do anything more than report the news that Americans need to understand government and military policies – including the waging of wars in foreign lands.
The press will continue to report both sides of this issue – that’s their job!
Do we really want military commanders making our decisions for us?
Do we really want to allow our Constitutional rights to be deleted from the Constitution by anything but due process under law?
Do we really want this issue to become a political football?