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« Of Course There Will Be Blood, or How to State the Obvious | Main | The Cold War Revisited? »

Honouring the Dead, or Stirring Controversy?

News comes today that the US Defence Chief, Robert Gates, has lifted a policy that forbade the publication of photographs of coffins carrying American war dead back home, so long as the dead soldiers' families agree.  The policy was put in place during the Gulf War during the administration of George Bush, the Elder.  Critics have argued that the policy covered up the real cost of America's wars abroad.  For his part, Gates reports that he never felt comfortable with the policy and tried last year to have the administration of Bush, the Younger, lift it.  However, the advent of the new Obama administration meant that Gates was able to re-start the discussion in the Pentagon, and despite widespread opposition, he felt it was better to give families the choice.  This also reflects US policy vis-à-vis military funerals at Arlington. 

Not surprisingly, the families of the war dead, as well as veterans of the Gulf, Iraqi, and Afghan wars are split in their response.  Some are in favour of Gates' lifting of the policy, others think it will increase pressure on families in a difficult time.

And before we get too excited about the significance of this policy being lifted early in Barack Obama's presidency, let us remember that this policy survived not just the tenures of Presidents Bush, but also that of Bill Clinton.

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