May 29, 2007
I STILL Stand with Cindy
By Mary Lyon
She lay down, prone, by the headstone. The young barefoot woman, with a pretty black-and-white sundress and brown hair pulled back neatly, had her face down to what looked like an inch or so from the ground - ground over which the grass had not yet grown to cover. It was, you see, a newer grave. The photo was featured in the Memorial Day edition of the New York Times . Mary McHugh probably didn't notice that her picture was being taken. She was likely too busy thinking about, praying for, and crying over, the soldier laid to rest six feet below her. He was her fiancé, Sgt. James J. Regan, buried in the new Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery - where the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are interred. You can't see her face in the photo, but you can feel her agony.
The mere glimpse of it still makes my eyes well up with tears.
And that's all these past several Memorial Days have been about: tears. And, sadly, tears for nothing. A harsh realization that I'm sure Cindy Sheehan just got tired of confronting. It's the same realization that Mary McHugh may be fighting, even now. It's certainly on the minds of the growing multitudes of us on the anti-war front. It's been on mine from the beginning, and I personally haven't tasted the bitterness of the fear, grief, and longing that Sheehan and McHugh have been forced to deal with every minute of every day.
Cindy Sheehan has called it quits. She just can't do it anymore, owing to health concerns, on-going frustration, and a sense of desolation about her son's tragic loss and the fact that we're still forced to press on with this sinful waste. She knows that means that many more Mary McHughs will come to know and share her anguish.
I can sympathize with her heartbreak. Too many of us felt it in the sucker punch of last week, when - I DON'T CARE HOW YOU SPIN IT - the Democrats CAVED. Yes. Our Democrats. You remember them? They're the ones for whom we all worked our tails off, most if not all of last year, to win back both houses of Congress. They're the ones who regained the authority to set the agenda, call the hearings, ask the hard questions, issue the subpoenas, and most urgently of all, STOP THE WAR. They're the ones who assured us all they had heard the message from the voters and would comply. And they've failed. They failed not only to hold George Bush accountable, FINALLY say "NO" to him, and force him to heed the will of the people he supposedly works for. They also failed in compliantly handing him a public relations bonanza that allows him to strut and swagger again like the tin-pot dictator he fancies himself to be. Plus, it threw truckloads of much-needed red meat to the declining numbers of "loyal Bushies" and chickenhawks who still view him as a Sun King. I think that's what's called adding insult to injury. Lots of fun-sounding, self-congratulatory platitudes, however, about how this is the beginning of the end and yeah, we sure showed him, and we're puttin' on the pressure alright, and what a great day for democracy. More baloney than you can find in all the Oscar Meyer plants in the kingdom. I think that's what you call the booby prize. Or maybe, in the minds of many of us who now feel betrayed, a fitting "lovely parting gift."
Cindy's already received hers and has now issued one in return. She's going home. She's had enough. She's suffered enough. Most disgracefully of all, she's also suffered at the hands of some of her own. I wince when the woman best-known as a "grieving mother" is reduced to being slammed as a mere "attention whore."
Let's just stop and look at Cindy Sheehan for a moment, and remember. Let's remember how she stepped up, and stood up, when no one else had the backbone to do so, and dared to question why her Iraq War-casualty son, Casey, died. This was during the summer of 2005, when she appealed to Junior, week after week, asking for nothing more than a couple of minutes of his time - to ask what EVERY American, AND EVERY American journalist should have been asking at the top of our lungs. WHY did her son die? What was this conflagration for, to begin with? With the reasons and justifications changing almost on a daily basis, EXACTLY what were we over there for? What are we STILL over there for? It was not an unreasonable question. Bush, as expected, put her on the same "ignore" mode to which he relegated all who've sought straight answers and facts and truth from him. That included everyone wanting to stop the war, and everyone giving sound, factual reasons for doing so. That included every last one of us, high and low, who warned what would happen, before we even got into this mess. Yes, that includes the intelligence community whose sounding of alarms in reports were cavalierly tossed aside as far back as January, 2003, according to a new (and equally-ignored) report from the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Ignored. The warnings were ignored. All questions were ignored. Cindy Sheehan was ignored by Bush. We who still push to end the war were ignored - and still are, by him and his pals and apologists. Funny, we're now being ignored by our own - the Democrats, stabbed in the heart by those who should be the last to pick up that stiletto. Sheehan felt the blows from within her own camp - those who should still be standing firmly by her side. And it was finally enough.
Cindy Sheehan did this nation a huge service in standing up when everyone else who could make a difference, from Congressmembers and Senators and the media. It was she who served the appetizer to the main course that Hurricane Katrina turned out to be at the end of that summer. Sheehan poked the first holes in the tires of the Bush juggernaut. In putting a human face on the real sacrifice and worst wounds from this war, she brought the harsh realities home in ways that our evening newscasts, in their fawning, cheerleading cowardice, refused to do. By the end of the summer, many more Americans were having their doubts about Young George's "leadership." If they were teetering on the edge of the precipice, Bush's negligence toward Hurricane Katrina closed the deal and pushed them over. That was the beginning of the end of Junior's free ride. And Cindy Sheehan was the first to revoke his ticket.
Sheehan, at least, had the guts. We hoped, at long last, that Congress would, too. And they've failed. And how many more Cindy Sheehans and Mary McHughs will we count by the time they confidently assure us they'll "revisit" the matter in September? If you figure the American troop deaths at about 100 per month, that's about 300 more we'll be mourning from June first to the end of August. About three hundred more graves dug in Arlington 's new Section 60. Cindy finally had enough. When will the Democrats get there? When will other Americans outside the anti-war movement reach that point?
Cindy Sheehan may have bowed out of the battle, but the rest of us simply HAVE TO stay in it. The administrator of the Democratic Underground website (to which she referred in her resignation letter as providing an example of the friendly fire she sustained) has offered a welcome and much-needed open letter of solace, apology, healing, and solidarity. It's a message to all of us, not just to her.
Cindy Sheehan didn't merely perform a public service. She WAS a public service. She sacrificed EVERYTHING to speak truth to power and help her country return to its senses.
And her work is NOT finished.
And then go DO something about it.