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Cindy Sheehan Is Right

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The sort of people who think there is no greater honor than to die in a war are visibly uncomfortable with Cindy Sheehan. They can’t understand her. Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Casey Sheehan, a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. She’s camped outside President Bush’s Crawford, Tex., ranch demanding a meeting with him and calling attention to the terrible predicament into which the president has delivered the American people.

Conservative commentators and talk-radio personalities apparently can’t fathom why Mrs. Sheehan hasn’t accepted her loss with more equanimity, if not satisfaction. After all, they suggest, her son perished while carrying out the inspired will of the president of the United States. Not everyone gets to go to his reward in such a grand fashion. Most people die unremarkable deaths, having quietly and unspectacularly worked to make decent lives for themselves, taking care of their family and being good friends and neighbors. Casey Sheehan and more than 1,800 other Americans were lucky to be spared that ho-hum fate. They died for a Great Cause. Thousands of others will bear the evidence of their patriotic endeavor for the rest of their days, having been crippled or maimed in their service to Bush, Rice, and Rumsfeld.

Of course the pro-war folks will say that all this death and mayhem is for a good reason. No one ever thinks he has sent people to their deaths for a bad reason. Harry Truman no doubt thought he was doing good when he dropped A-bombs on innocent, unthreatening Japanese civilians 60 years ago. I grant you it takes quite an imagination to see good in the vaporizing of old men, women, and children. Never underestimate the power of rationalization.

The conservatives who favor the war most likely believe that Cindy Sheehan suffers from false consciousness. Surely she does not know her own interests. In their eyes, she should be a rah-rah supporter of the war, especially after the sacrifice of her son. But she’s not. She can’t be right about its immorality. How could she? A Republican president says it’s right. The rest of her family is reported to favor the war and to disapprove of what she is doing. So something must be wrong with her. She is being manipulated by the anti-war movement, which hates America. Or so some conservatives seem to think. Columnist Frank J. Gaffney Jr. calls her “the poster child for surrender [who] has morphed into a pawn in the hands of partisans who are indifferent whether the United States is defeated on the central front in this global war — as long as Mr. Bush, his administration, and party are laid low.”

Then again, maybe she is right about the war. Maybe it was a mistake that should end forthwith. Maybe all those sons and daughters are dying for one man’s self-delusion and hubris. The American people seem to be coming around to this position.

And why not? The number-one stated reason for going to war — weapons of mass destructive — turned out to be a big zero. The other reasons since given prominence — Saddam Hussein’s cruelty to the Iraqis, and so on — would never have persuaded the American people to put their sons and daughters in mortal peril.

The president tries, without evidence, to connect Saddam to the al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11. But Bush didn’t invade Iraq to retaliate for mass murder on American soil, although he has now turned that country into a recruitment campaign for terrorists. The myth that if they are blowing things up there they won’t be doing so here is long gone. Ask the Spanish and British.

For more than eight decades Western politicians have used the Middle East for their own purposes. It is not surprising that that has created a hatred for imperial policies which motivates people, inexcusably, to murder innocents. (Over the years, western empire-builders have not exactly been meticulous about sparing innocents.) Recognizing the roots of this hatred and acting accordingly do not constitute surrender, as the neoconservatives believe, but rationality.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.