Morning Report 8/24/05
Slab in the Face

Bush regime leaves its PR mark on dead soldiers' markers

The outsider: Think of the possibilities if the Bush regime's chiselers could have done some spinning on the grave of Iwo Jima hero Ira Hayes at Arlington

The Bush regime's monumental hubris has led us on a death march that no one will ever forget.

And to make sure, it's engraving its public-relations slogan for the unjustified invasion of Iraq onto the grave markers of our dead soldiers.

Apparently, one grave miscalculation deserves another — and another and another.

David Pace of the Associated Press turned over enough rocks to discover this unprecedented public-relations ploy. Pace followed typically straightforward AP style in describing the devious maneuver by the chiselers in the White House and Pentagon:

    Unlike earlier wars, nearly all Arlington National Cemetery gravestones for troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan are inscribed with the slogan-like operation names the Pentagon selected to promote public support for the conflicts.

    The vast majority of military gravestones from other eras are inscribed with just the basic, required information: name, rank, military branch, date of death and, if applicable, the war and foreign country in which the person served.

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Digression: A tip of the fedora to Bush Beat reader Mike Silverman in Israel for sending along the link late last night. Silverman, a New Yorker who moved to Israel in 1974, lives in Clil, a relatively peaceful artist colony and farming village overlooking the Mediterranean whose own slogan calls for the promoting of "harmonious dialogue with our Christian, Moslem and Druze neighbors." End digression.

The AP's Pace did some diligent digging for his tale beyond the crypt. We've already seen how the Pentagon tried to spin the death of former NFL star Pat Tillman, using even his corpse as a public-relations prop. Mary Tillman, like Cindy Sheehan a grieving mom who felt used by the Bush regime, bitterly complained about the relentless coverup of Tillman's senseless death in Afghanistan at the hands of his own soldiers. The coverup continued so that Bush, Don Rumsfeld, and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue could continue to milk the iconic Tillman for all the public-relations value he was worth after his death.

Once again, it appears, the Bush regime can't let dead soldiers and their families rest in peace. More from the AP's Pace:

    Families are supposed to have final approval over what goes on the tombstones. That hasn't always happened.

    Nadia and Robert McCaffrey, whose son Patrick was killed in Iraq in June 2004, said "Operation Iraqi Freedom" ended up on his government-supplied headstone in Oceanside, Calif., without family approval.

    "I was a little taken aback," Robert McCaffrey said, describing his reaction when he first saw the operation name on Patrick's tombstone. "They certainly didn't ask my wife; they didn't ask me." He said Patrick's widow told him she had not been asked either.

    "In one way, I feel it's taking advantage to a small degree," McCaffrey said. "Patrick did not want to be there, that is a definite fact."

Hell, even the people who make the grave markers think it's a bad idea:

    The owner of the company that has been making gravestones for Arlington and other national cemeteries for nearly two decades is uncomfortable, too.

    "It just seems a little brazen that that's put on stones," said Jeff Martell, owner of Granite Industries of Vermont. "It seems like it might be connected to politics."

VA officials of course deny that higher-ups at the Pentagon and White House ordered them to do things differently. But the facts don't back that up, as Pace found. In fact, the Bush regime is taking advantage of a relatively recent change in rules to try to leave its public-relations spoor on the illegal, unjustified, disastrous war. Pace notes:

    Since 1997, the government has been paying for virtually everything inscribed on the gravestones. Before that, families had to pay the gravestone makers separately for any inscription beyond the basics.

    It wasn't until the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that the department instructed national cemetery directors and funeral homes across the country to advise families of fallen soldiers and Marines that they could have operation names like "Enduring Freedom" or "Iraqi Freedom" included on the headstones.

    VA officials say neither the Pentagon nor White House exerted any pressure to get families to include the operation names. They say families always had the option of including information like battle or operation names, but didn't always know it.

    "It's just the right thing to do and it always has been, but it hasn't always been followed," said Dave Schettler, director of the VA's memorial programs service.

Bullshit. And what's worse, government officials do more than just offer an option to grieving families:

    At Arlington, the nation's most prestigious national cemetery, all but a few of the 193 gravestones of Iraq and Afghanistan dead carry the operation names. War casualties are also buried in many of the 121 other national cemeteries and numerous state and private graveyards.

    The interment service supervisor at Arlington, Vicki Tanner, said cemetery representatives show families a mock-up of the headstone with "Operation Iraqi Freedom" or "Operation Enduring Freedom" already included, and ask their approval.

"Mock-up" is right. As Pace notes:

    Former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam and headed the Veterans Administration under President Carter, called the practice "a little bit of glorified advertising."

    "I think it's a little bit of gilding the lily," Cleland said, while insisting that he's not criticizing families who want that information included.

    "Most of the headstones out there at Arlington and around the nation just say World War II or Korea or Vietnam, one simple statement," he said. "It's not, shall we say, a designated theme or a designated operation by somebody in the Pentagon. It is what it is. And I think there's power in simplicity."

And I think there's a simpleton in power.

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