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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

Taking the Dover Test


As of this writing, 4,911 American men and women in military service have died since 2001 in the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In peacetime — in the natural order of things — children bury their parents; in war, parents bury their children. The voice of the young father, now forever stilled, who will never guide the growth of his young daughter is recalled by his widow, his kid sister, his mother.

An American who lives every single day with the pain of war's sacrifice said it well: "War is awful. Nothing, not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality. Whatever is won in war, it is loss the veteran remembers." These are the words of John McCain.

The civilian leadership of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ignored, dishonored and repealed a genuine American value: War demands equality of sacrifice. All the sacrifice and all the suffering on the American side have been borne by the men and women who volunteered to serve in the military and their loved ones. For the rest of us, we have been asked to pay no price, to bear no burden. These are the first American wars in over 160 years that the nation has fought without a military draft and with tax cuts.

For all Americans except those who were sent to fight and, possibly, die, the Iraq war was to be ouchless and painless. You will look in vain to find any federal budget item over the past seven years listing or even mentioning the price — in trillions — of that war, because the entire cost has been conveniently buried "off budget."

The reasoning was pretty basic: If Americans don't have to worry about the threat of having their children drafted or the inconvenience of any home-front shortages or the imposition of their taxes being raised to pay for the war, then the chances were pretty good — even if the war went bad, as it did — that Americans would not take to the streets in obstreperous protests.

One other precaution to further sedate us noncombatants was taken by the Bush-Cheney folks: Bar all photographic evidence of American fatalities in those wars.

Out of sight, out of mind.

You can see President Ronald Reagan publicly grieving as he stood planeside, welcoming home the flag-draped caskets of American Marines killed in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. You can see President Bill Clinton openly crying at public ceremonies receiving the remains of American embassy personnel killed in Tanzania and Kenya. But you will find no pictures of the president who started the Iraq war anywhere near the casket or funeral of any of those 4,911 Americans who, in the words of Lincoln, "gave the last full measure of devotion. "

George W. Bush did authorize the nationwide display of a flag-draped corpse in 2004. It was the body of a victim being carried from the rubble of the World Trade Center, and that image was used in a television commercial produced and paid for by President Bush's re-election campaign.

In January 2000, the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, gave us a standard by which to determine whether this nation ought to send its sons and daughters into combat. That decision "must be subjected to what I call 'the Dover test.' Is the American public prepared for the sight of our most precious resource coming home in flag-draped caskets into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware — which is a point of entry for our armed forces? This is an issue, I think, that should be raised early on. It should be discussed, and it should be decided by our political leadership before any operation begins."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, consistent with the promised transparency and accountability, has decided to allow photos of the flag-draped caskets of American service members. Seven years too late, the country is finally taking the Dover test.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
Well said Mark. In a way. But in the end, it is we who deserve the blame, because we let it happen right in front of our safe and sheltered eyes with barely a whimper. And even decent journalists like you and the good folks on PBS continue to perpetuate the lazy habit of counting all the Americans killed by the failed adventure, making an executive decision to omit mention of the victims who were the target of our misrepresented and failed adventure. They would be the Iraqis, who paid a price inconceivably more dear than did we and ours. Not to mention all the domestic animals and wildlife we never deign to to give a shit about as we obsess on our precious and overvalued "human" condition.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Masako
Fri Feb 27, 2009 11:28 PM
Sir;...The real test for any military action is: Does the object have the full support of the American people...We forget that consensus is the essence of Democracy.... We forget that majority rule is a convenience putting haste before the necessity of bringing everyone along.... We have been ruined by halves...Now we are being defeated by halves.... And it was for no other reason than our so called leadership, thinking they had enough support to get away with a stupid move, -moved stupidly...And the army went along... The people did not go along...I demonstrated..I marched... I wrote to opinion columns, and I was not alone...Short of taking up arms against my goverment I did all in my power to alert people of the danger...But when you spend your life avoiding power, and avoiding power structures it is hard then, to stand back, and watch with clean hands while your country marches into disaster....Mr. Shields; People knew.... Not just -read a few history book people, like myself knew; but others, educated, and trained, knew what peril we were putting our people in...I still think it is crazy, only because it is so predictable...Do you know how Osama Bin Ladin manipulated our military in Somalia??? He did it again in Afghanistan....We do not understand those people, and we do not undestand Islam, and we do not understand Bin Ladin.... He brought us there...It is the perfect killing ground... We gave up the choice of battlefield....We gave them the battleffield of choice....What could possibly account for the stupidity of our generals??? Have they never read a single book??? Have they read the Bible too often???It is one thing to think you are invincible...It is that thought alone, or not carring, that has led so many heroes to their deaths....Afghanistan is not the right battlefield... Iraq was not the right battlefield... And this is primarily because there is no right battlefield, and no right war...If we were a democracy we would realize how useless it is to fight.... If we were a democracy we would marshall our forces and use them wisely...If we were a democracy we would make the first three considerations of our military: Defense, defense, defense... Look at how often the Kings of England brought themselves to the edge of ruin being offensive in Europe...For What glory will the lives of your children be spent??? I can see the military thinking: let's wreck these toys, and we will get new.... What about the poor slob, and his parents, who looked at the military as a hope and an obligation... They have done their parts and more...They have put their lives on hold, and on the line to defend this land.... Our generals and politician who misused them in stupid offense should be tried in some other court than history... The military hangs their criminals, but the big ones always die in their sleep... So, Mr. Shields; I would say that all our wars should be defensive, and should have the support of all the people, and should be fought with some prospect of victory....We could have went into those Muslim countries ten times for the price of staying once.... That fact should have been spelled out to the public.... Instead, So predictably, we go and stay and ruin our army, sapping our will to fight, and wrecking our economy.... It is not because we lack people willing to fight and die....What is lacking is pretext... We had a pretext to go... That was enough for some... So they fear to withdraw thinking they will have lost their pretext for going again...They would rather lose their war than their pretext for fighting it... And I think that is what is happening; and I think that is crazy, obscene, and madness...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Feb 28, 2009 6:30 AM
Re: Masako;.... Don't beat yourself up...It is not like we have democracy... We do not have self government... We have majority rule, and republican government... The best we have is a vote on who will represent us, and our divided districts are so divided that one party's victory is all but certain.... And this mean that some people will be denied representation perpetually.... Once elected, representatives do as they please....They do not have to check back with the people, and ask consent... Consent is implied, or assumed, but it is not tangible and real.... So with this majority, and over this divison, government does as it wishes...There was public dissent going into the wars in Afghanistan, and Iraq... It was bowled over, and dismissed.... That is the tyranny of the majority that it is at the mercy of every demogogue, and we have a government of demogogues.... Advisers, and ad men are as important as the candidate in any election... Two things were essential to the re-election of GW Bush... One was Carl Rove, and the other was the pathological inability of the American people to admit a mistake... It did not help that Mr. Kerry was such a slow target.... The fact is, that demogogury carried the election because it could, because we have majority rule.... That is not democracy and never has been... Democracy has no part of rule... The tyranny of the majority is only the tyranny of individuals acting in the name of the majority...It is not the same as all people deciding their common best interst.... So don't blame yourself... The problems are systemic, and they have always cost this people dearly, and sometimes brought us to the edge of defeat... Now they are crossing that line again, as they did in Vietnam.... The majority, misled and trusting can drag a minority into war... Great, because they only have a short term in which to gain victory before the fickle middle gravitates to a more sound understanding of reality....That majority long ago gravitated to the sense that Afghanistan and Iraq were mistakes... The government feels it can blame the majority when they agree as the government wants, and can ignore the majority when they deny the aims of the government... The system does not work for the people... The people do not govern... They can be manipulated to give authority to government; but they do not have a true choice in the matter...You cannot fool all of the people all of the time... That is the government we need, of all the people..-Not to allow; but to inhibit stupidity..Thanks. and best to ya..Sweeney
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Feb 28, 2009 7:03 AM
Thanks once again Mark, well said. What about the automatic drafting for (of?) the children of federal congressmen and presidents? Shared sacrifice and more carefull thought brought home to the family?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Brian C. Jones
Sat Feb 28, 2009 8:20 AM
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