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An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan


Today Cindy Sheehan said that she's leaving her camp outside the president's ranch in Texas because her mother is ill. She says she'll be back as soon as possible if it's possible. For the past couple of weeks Cindy Sheehan has become a focal point for discussion about the Iraq War. Her son Casey was killed in Iraq, and her vigil was a protest against the war. Last night thousands of her supporters gathered in demonstrations around the country.

Now we have the first of two commentaries about Cindy Sheehan. It is an open letter from Stephen Mansfield, the author of many books, including "The Faith of the American Soldier."


Dear Mrs. Sheehan: You are in a firestorm of grief and what must be a disorienting swirl of world attention. For that reason, I will be as brief in my remarks as I hope to be compassionate. I will not insult you by presuming to know your sorrow. The loss of a son in armed conflict abroad must be among the most soul-wrenching experiences possible. You are surely right to rage against the horrors of war, right to demand answers and right to reach for those of like mind.

I fear, though, that what began as a mourning mother's righteous cry for meaning is becoming something that threatens to dishonor Casey's heroism. Though I mean no disrespect, it is clear you are becoming swept up in a cynical drama that is far afield from the meaning of the war and your son's sacrifice. From your blogging on Michael Moore's Web site to the pronouncements you feel obligated to make on the cause of Palestine, you risk abandoning the moral high ground of a grieving mother and are in danger of becoming just another fleeting voice on the American pop culture landscape.

The central issue here is not whether George W. Bush meets with you again. The central issue is that when your son volunteered for military service, he placed himself on an altar of sacrifice. Sadly, the ultimate sacrifice was indeed required. Yet he gave himself willingly, as all our soldiers do in this generation, and his death is therefore the noble death of a hero and not the needlessly tragic death of one accidentally or foolishly taken. What we must understand is that a pledge to military service is a surrender of rights, a surrender of comforts and potentially a surrender of life if the mission calls.

What leaves us so stunned at the death of a soldier beyond our grief or a life snuffed out and our personal loss is often our failure to understand the noble calling of the profession of arms and the warrior code that gives this call meaning. When your son and the thousands like him serving today pledged himself to military service, he did not just join the Army. He offered himself to his god and his nation in an act of devotion that has been repeated for centuries. He entered the fellowship of those who offer their lives willingly in service to others. His death, though a horror, was a horror with meaning, willingly engaged.

I cannot know your sorrow. I can urge you, though, not to allow your son's offering on what Lincoln called the altar of freedom to be tainted by the passing parade of trendy causes. I can also urge you to live now in the knowledge that your son's passing ennobles our nation, just as I trust it will now ennoble you. With deepest sympathies for your loss, Stephen Mansfield.

SIEGEL: Stephen Mansfield is the author of "The Faith of the American Soldier." Tomorrow, another view of Cindy Sheehan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Mansfield