The post with which I take exception is this dig at the Pope. Now, I'm not one to fall back merely on the defense "Don't speak ill of the dead". I'll speak ill of those deserving ill speech, and speak well of those deserving praise, be they dead or alive. What I do find troublesome about the post is argument that the Pope's decision about his own death is somehow incongruous with JP II's stance on the Terri Schiavo case.
Now, if I agreed with Smallholder on every point of the Schiavo case, I'd have to agree with him about the Pope. But I don't. I don't necessarily disagree, I just don't agree. For the Pope's stance to have been hypocritical, Il Papa would have had to reach the same conclusion that Terri was dead and unsaveable. Take SH's comment Surely he had more "life" to be held in sanctity than a woman with spinal fluid where her cerebral cortex ought to have been. While this conclusion is Smallholder's firm assertion, while it is Michael Schiavo's firm conviction, and while it was the judge's firm conviction and thus legal ruling, it was not an undisputed point. A great many people did not believe this to be the case, and for them, there is no moral conflict between a desire to give Teri a chance and a personal choice not to prolong their own lives past hope. The crux of the matter is that if you don't believe Terri needed heroic measures (whether you were correct in this belief or not), then that's different from choosing to forego heroic measures.
Furthermore, there is the question of whether or not the choice made for Terri was her own. Again, Smallholder believes it was. Many do not. While that assertion is open to debate, the Popes decision on his own behalf is not.
Finally, I find this comment troubling: But perhaps, at the very end, he realized he could not follow those convictions into a prolonged death struggle.
Two points. First, I do think that this is a bit if an unkind dig at a man who was dealing with a terrible illness, an illness I hope Smallholder never suffers. Secondly, I seem to recall that many of those who agree with Smallholder regarding the Schiavo case (and perhaps even SH himself, I can't remember) argued that the efforts to keep Terri alive were motivated by a fear of death, an unwillingness to accept immortality. But this comment seems to imply that JP II's decision was to embrace death out of a fear of facing prolonged suffering in life. So my question to Smallholder, and to other potetnial Papal detractors, is this: If is was cowardice to prolong life, and it was cowardice to refrain prolonging life, how was His Holiness to please you? Not that that was ever his goal....
Regarding two other Smallholder posts:
As for the media. Smallholder would sarcastically have us believe that current news coverage of the awarding of a Congressional Medal of Honor is proof that the Media is not biased in its coverage of Iraq. I shall avoid relying solely on the old maxim that the exception proves the rule, because that alone would be a weak argument. I will, however, point out that the first presentation of our nation's highest military honor in twelve years is quite a newsworthy event, and not something the media could easily ignore. As for front page news, I'm curious as to which paper and which day. Today's
As for the debate on the merits of recovering the dead during combat:
Smallholder's points are at least worthy of consideration. So are the points of those who disagree with him, as well as those who agree. I'm just curious to hear input from one other, very important point of view: The guys who actually have to carry out this policy. I don't know any of these bloggers well enough to know if they're service veterans, let alone combat vets. But when it comes to this policy, it seems to me that their opinion should weigh heavily. Now, normally I am reticent to weigh in on issues having to do with the combat experience, because I am a career civilian. However, on this topic I think I've learned enough military history to have an opinion.
Smallholder's original argument against the policy (Whether this is the entire crux of his objection or not) was that he would be reticent as an officer to send other men in to die to recover a body, and further, to have to tell the families of those new dead why their son died: to recover a corpse.
I'd like to address the second part of the equation first. I find this expression of concern for the families of the dead somewhat inconcruous with the previous statement "Private Snuffy was dead and his family would have to grieve, with or without the shell." which seems somewhat (if unintentionally) cavalier. Any combat death is a tragedy, and should be treated with as much dignity and respect and compassion as possible. They should also be avoided if possible. But in warfare, deaths occur. That is the nature of the beast. If the goal acheived, or at least striven for, is worthy of the sacrifice, soldiers must be, and almost always are, willing to make that sacrifice, and officers must be willing to send them to that doom, as hard a choice as it may be.
Which brings us to the question of whether or not recovering a fallen camrade's body is a worthy enough cause to warrant another soldier's death. To answer that question, we must first ask and answer the question of what good the recovery does? Why do we not abandon our dead?
Smallholder and Ally argue that it's all about "Honor and Dignity", and assail these concepts as moot in the case of the dead. Bill, in arguing against this position, focuses on the needs of the individual dying, and his family, to know he'll be honored in death. I think he's on to something here, but I also believe he falls a bit short.
I agree with Bill that it is not asinine to recover the dead. But I go a bit further in my reason why. It is not for the sake of the dead man in his dying, nor for his family, that I believe our military holds this policy. And while I do believe that Honor has something to do with it, I do not believe, as SH and Ally do, that it's honor for honor's sake alone -- some hidebound tradition without reason. Ultimately, I believe that we adhere to this policy, that we display this honor, for the sake of the living soldiers, for the sake of those who may become the dead, as well as for the sake of those who will be called on to risk and even give their own lives to recover those dead.
If you spend any amount of time reading the annals and recollections of combat veterans, if you have watched their interviews, one thing sticks out in your mind. While they were recruited with varying degrees of willingness, for a multitude of causes, and fought under a thousand banners, they all seem to agree on this thing. When the drums roll, and the trumpets sound, and the swords clash, and the bombs drop, and the shells explode, and the bullets fly, and the blood flows, they have all fought for the same reason: They fight for the man to their left and the man to their right.
It's the inspiration of all good soldiers, not just the title of a miniseries: They're a band of brothers. They fight, kill, and die to protect and support each other. They rely on each other, trust each other. Even though it's a bond forged in battle and thus dissolves to some extent with the peace, in ways this bond is a vow more binding than the marriage vow: I'm married to my wife "till death do us part". Soldiers are bound to each other even in death. This is why they do not leave their dead behind. And this is why I believe (though any vets out their are as always welcome to correct me) that they are not only willing to, but believe strongly that they should, risk their own lives to recover the bodies of their fallen buddies. And if we release them from this obligation, furthermore, if an officer by his orders bars them from carrying out this obligation, that vow has been broken. They have not kept the faith, they have broken the bonds of brotherhood that bind even in death. And if that vow, which has been made can be broken in death, what's to keep the bond in life? The foundation of trust and honor which keeps good soldiers fighting for each other has been eroded. And in the end, soldiers who cannot trust each other cannot defend each other. And if they cannot defend each other, they cannot survive. And that is why, I believe, the living risk their lives to honor the dead.
Oh, as an aside to Smallholder: Congratulations on the birth of your sheep's twins.