Mo’ Better Hero Myth: Part 4, The War Widow

Posted on September 17, 2007

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Just to continue what I think should be one of the most important–and least heard–conversations going on today. Anyone who hasn’t noticed the way that both parties cynically use the war dead and their relatives for political gains is probably watching too many reruns of True Life. Literally, you cannot turn your head these days without tripping over the straw man argument presented by the corpses of our dead American soldiers.

Case in point, George W. Bush’s disgusting use of the death of Michigan National Guardsman Brandon Stout in his post-Petraeus address ; you can read it in this transcript from the BBC . Bush argues that the death of Stout is sad, and so you should feel bad about not supporting the war because then Stout’s family will feel rotten about the whole thing.

Indeed, Bush’s paradigm was repeated in a much more sincere, and thus unintentionally ironic, way by Stout’s widow when she appeared on Hannity & Colmes the next night. In response to host Sean Hannity’s query about whether Audrey gets offended by anti-war “political rhetoric”, Audrey replied,

“uh…yes, because it makes me feel like maybe his death was done in vain and he died for nothing”

Alan Colmes, the program’s ostensible anti-war foil, was suspiciously quiet for the majority of the interview, neatly proving the Bush war-widow strategy has legs; there is no longer any need for hawks to justify the war. Pulling out now will make America’s Audrey Stouts feel like their spouses died for nothing.

But despite the clever ploy, it is the very circumstances of Brandon Stout’s life and death that should dispel the glamour the Bush Administration now seeks to place on grieving military families. Brandon Stout did indeed die for nothing in a war he never sought to fight.

Bush’s claim that Stout “volunteered” for the National Guard, is technically true, but he did not volunteer for the war in Iraq. According to an Associated Press article at the time of Stout’s death, Stout enlisted in the Guard in June 2003, a scant month after Bush had dramatically and unequivocally declared victory in the war in Iraq. Officially, there were no combat operations in Iraq.

Had he been seeking foreign military service, Stout could have joined one of the four military branches. But Stout had practical matters on his mind. Wood 8, a local Michigan television station, reported that Stout had joined “while attending college in Lansing. It was an opportunity to earn money and train for a career in security services.” Stout chose to get married and build a life while working at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport; he was still working there when he was called to active duty in July, 2006. Even then, according to an Associated Press report, Stout had sought to be a chaplain’s assistant during his deployment, not a combatant.

Stout’s family may accept Bush’s narrative as some measure of consolation today. But Stout was quite simply drafted and then killed in a needless war. According to Icasualties.org, four hundred other National Guardsmen—whose terms of enlistment span eight years—have been drafted and killed in similar fashion. Nearly two hundred more Army Reservists have been killed in Iraq through Bush’s cynical back-door draft.

Those of us who do not want our own dead children to be celebrated in Bush’s next speech have a simple choice. We can pity Stout. We can pity his wife and family. We can pity them and the thousands of others like them, and thus remain silent.

Or we can get angry: at an administration that uses soldiers as fodder and their deaths as a rhetorical device; at a supine media peddling military press releases instead of investigative reporting; and yes, at the manipulation of the families of dead soldiers, who in their aggrieved confusion are now joining the Bush administration in asking our children, family and friends to go and kill and die for nothing.

It may seem callous to the troops and their families, but, as our war in Iraq has proven over the last five years, there are worse things.