It suffices to say that welling up at newspaper articles is not common; at least, it’s not often heard of, and when it is, those who did not well up are likely to say, “Obviously,” wondering if the crier wants a prize for being emotional. But it did not occur to the first category to well up at the article, and in some cases, it did not occur to them to read it. This morning the New York Times published a front-page expose on the nature of, shall we say, ‘death notification,’ the process by which the families of soldiers in Iraq are told of — and led through — the soldiers’ deaths. The process, the Times has shown us, is far from uniformly positive, and the instances of discomfort and unhappiness on the part of the families appears to be far more notable than instances of satisfaction.
This article brought me to tears, at least to the extent that I could not read the article for some minutes in light of the fact that I couldn’t see, but the most startling piece of news was found, naturally, on the first page of the article, and it was not until page A8 that I momentarily stopped reading. The first anecdote relayed in the article is the following: when a man took a moment to collect himself upon hearing that his son had died in Iraq, the ‘moment’ resulted in lowering the American flag outside his house and ripping some streamers off a tree. The casualty officer, in charge of “personally” notifying this man of his son’s death, told the father, “Don’t be disrespectful,” and promptly left the area. Sounds like the makings of a good anti-war movie. Except — this is real.
[ADBLOCKHERE]The Big Brotherly force that we broadly define as George W. Bush is the force that readers are likely to blame for this grave series of negligence and errors, but ‘negligence’ and ‘errors’ are so commonplace now that we are really only willing to hear them complained of here, in the blogosphere, or on The Daily Show. It requires much less effort to sit, hear Jon Stewart speak, nod our heads, and laugh. But as the Times points out, there appears to be no organized system that can account for the unemotional, unprofessional, and unhelpful method in which the military is apt to conduct these little ceremonies. And clearly, there is nothing ceremonious about them. While the military would surely be closed off to an independent organization doing the deed for them, it would certainly be an effective program, one that you, the average citizen, whether you be pro- or anti-war, could initiate.
Sexism should be a thing of the past, but recent studies on the differences between men’s and women’s brains suggest that women might, generally speaking, be better at the task. Recall the Times article of January 19, “When Bad People Are Punished, Men Smile (but Women Don’t)”. Generally speaking, women are more sensitive. It has been proven that they have better memories of their childhood because of the emotional attachment they assign to memories. Men, on the other hand, are apt to think more rationally, and to be less compassionate. The study indicated in the above article showed that women display compassion even for murderers and rapists, but men to some extent revel in the criminals’ suffering. In today’s article, no instances of women behaving gruffly with families were noted, and when military officials were interviewed and shown to be apologetic about the system, those officials were women. This cannot be passed off as a set of coincidences.
An ominous framed photograph of a soldier hugging his small son before departing Iraq was the tear-jerker for me, because the soldier later died in suspicious circumstances — at least, his wife was not told that he was on a life-support machine, and soon after she was told that he had “gone off it” and was recovering, he died. For a more extensive list of errors, it is best to read the article itself. Allow the article to be a call to arms. The Times, though typically rather stolid, has showcased a well-written, heartfelt article (composed by a woman, no less,) and the egregious events documented in it should be an alarm bell. Don’t let the banality of the administration’s shortcomings, after six years of them, hold you back. And if you’re a man, of course, don’t let psychological studies and stereotypes hold you back either.