Thursday, August 18, 2005

Sheehan + "Exploitation" = Bullshit

I've read dozens and dozens of rebuttals to the "Cindy Sheehan is exploiting the memory of her dead son" arguments in recent days, but I think this one cuts to the heart of it:

One of the oddest accusations to come out of the Sheehan phenomenon is that this mother is "exploiting" her son's death and her own grief. I've thought about this for a couple of days, and the illogic of this argument is not settling down. In fact, it's becoming more crazy-making the more I think about it.

The logic (if you can call it that) in this "exploitation" argument is thus: If a tragedy befalls an individual and the individual decides to devote every action of her being to ensuring no other human being suffers this same tragedy, she's ... exploiting? Huh?

By this analysis, Christopher Reeve was "exploiting" his injury by advocating for cures for spinal injuries. MADD members are "exploiting" the deaths of their children by pushing for stronger punishments and deterrents of drunk drivers. The Susan G. Komen Foundation is "exploiting" a sister's death by raising money for breast cancer research through its highly successful Race for the Cure series. And so on. You get the drift.

Conversely, it's always represented to me the height of maturity and courage to be able to take a private grief and turn it into something public, something bigger, something more heroic and true than a personal, massive sorrow. I know that I simply will not be able to survive the death of one of my children in any sort of shape that will allow me to become a spokesperson for a cause, no matter how righteous that cause is. As it is, I have trouble sustaining discipline and energy for something as straightforward as blogging a couple of times a week. If one of my kids goes, I assure you that I will crawl into a corner of the universe and emotionally die. You will not hear from me again; I know this well because for 16 years I've had a child living on the edge of this life-death deal with a congenital heart defect and numerous (mostly unsuccessful) surgical interventions. Sorry, I've looked into my soul and I cower in the dark of night. You won't find me as a poster woman for the American Heart Association any time soon. Just breathing will be considered a victory.

How many of us, if faced with the death of a child, would be able to muster the courage, grace and energy to make public appearances on behalf of other people's children? And how many of us could do so while being demonized relentlessly and our private lives examined in detail? Sheehan's words and acts are never going to bring her son back. She knows that. This is by no means a silly woman.

But my God, she's a heroic one. As surely every thinking parent on this planet knows, deep in their hearts.


Lily said...

Whats the source on this one, Bitch?
I do think the exploitation arguments are ridiculous and lowly. And now they show close ups of the catering and wi-fi, and treat Camp Casey like a spontaneous resort. Sneering... "look at the expense, folks!". Stupid.
I can see the argument for the "we should all care about a war that takes anyone's children" case. I do not think we wait until our life is tragically affected to speak out, I think that the grief of ALL mothers should give us pause. But that is a naive view and I will own that. I think better late then not at all- where outrage is concerned.
I mean, we are arguing what? If she is the perfect victim? if she is the perfect spokesperson? The key element is that SHE DID SOMETHING. Why, how, and when is unimportant as she is still doing more than we are.
Timing, well thats always a criticism. Often, we let the poor die, the minorities die, and the protests and outrage come when middle class people are drafted and coming home in bags. (Vietnam) When I read about past wars and the stages of dissension, and the movements- I wonder why we seem to wait so long to speak out, to raise a ruckus. As if the value of one son or daughter is more worthy than another. The case for war was weak, and remains weak, no matter how much our leader flips the bird and tantrums.
I have been at rallies, marches, vigils, and demonstrations since before it started- not because I categorically oppose ALL war, ALL military, or disrespect those that sacrifice for America. I think war is a last resort, an extreme -and I do not think the case was made for THIS war.
I think that people have been courageous to stand up. Especially those I know who did it when it was not popular. It has cost people I know friends, opportunities... and yet they stood, sometimes in the company of very few.
NOW the polls are changing. NOW it is safe to question. NOW we are not accused of being unpatriotic- as often. But how sad that we function that way.
If we could only sway the tides earlier...

Cantankerous Bitch said...

The quoted material is from a diary linked at the top of my entry.

If you're asking more generally about who's making the "exploitation" assertions, you can thank the usual suspects - O'Reilly, Malkin, Drudge, Limbaugh etc., (to say nothing of virtually all RW blogs, and lately, the American Legion, no less).

See, I don't recall a time when I wasn't accused of "Un-Americanism" & the like, and I've likewise been hollering about this Iraq fiasco since before the invasion. Fresh off the heels of 9/11, anyone that questioned the wisdom of the invasion immediately had their patriotism disparaged (at least in the circles I debated in), such that the net effect of the objection was to simply be drowned out by a vengeful opposition. Not that I blame anyone for their post-WTC blood lust, of course. However, to watch that lust turned on anyone even remotely skeptical of Bush was (and continues) to be sickening. I think the same people that were protesting then are protesting now; it's just that the safety-in-numbers crystallization point that Sheehan has provided is something the media finally deemed it worthy to pay attention to.

Lily said...

Just wanted to be clear, not that its difficult to find criticism of Sheehan or her supporters, from the usual big mouths...
Safety in numbers, indeed... part of why I feel it is important to speak up, even when society makes it difficult or there is a price to pay. In some cases, our openness emboldens others who are in silent agreement. Ever go to a party where one person is going on in front of a group about (insert topic or choose: racism, welfare mothers, nuking mecca, yankees vs. red sox) and everyone is silent, then you state your opposing view and suddenly, people are talking and less afraid to challenge? Childish, but human. This is what we DO. I think that it is clearly valuable to make our statements, even when we think it does not matter or our neighbors will shun us or we will have terrible consequences. As OP once pointed out, there is a time and place and circumstantial comfort levels with being any cause's sacrificial lamb... I agree there. For Sheehan, it was her time and place and it helped people realize that military moms can speak out, and opt not to participate in the ruse of nobility. Many soldiers themselves do not agree with THIS particular cause. But they gambled their lives on faith in our government. Even though this does not fit the bill for "heroic life giving" for some, they are stuck. That is pretty tragic.