Two weeks ago on October 29 President Obama made a
middle-of-the-night visit to Dover Air Force base to greet the caskets of America’s
most recent war dead returning from Afghanistan. The president’s visit,
recorded on news video and by press photographers, thrust the sadness of the
war onto the front page and reminded the public of the sacrifices made by so
Today, on Veterans’ Day, the president stepped away from the
official events in Arlington Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater to walk with the
First Lady among the rows of graves in Section 60.
Section 60 is the area reserved at Arlington as the final
resting place for many soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines killed in Iraq and
Afghanistan. There are often
family members visiting graves or holding their own vigil. Some have called it
the “saddest acre in America.”
The president, walking in the light rain without an
umbrella, informally greeted family members or veterans who were making their
own visit. Once again the news photographers clicked and the video rolled. And
just as he did two weeks ago, Barack Obama guaranteed that those two wars,
thousands of miles away, end up in the news again as a reminder to all the
The president of the United States is followed everywhere by
a press corps who are taking constant photos, videos and writing down notes
about the Commander-in-Chief’s every comment, nod and tremble. And he knows
President Obama could’ve played the role simply—stayed at
the Amphitheater behind a podium and away from the crowd. It is an easier
role—much more presidential in the view of those who think leaders should be
slightly distant. But Obama chose instead to take the constant and continuous
coverage of him and use it to spotlight the ultimate sacrifice that so many of America’s
servicemen and women have made—and the military families who carry those
sacrifices as well.
This visit to Arlington, just like his visit to Dover
earlier, will be an iconic image of Barack Obama’s presidency no matter his
decision about the next steps in Afghanistan. These visits also offer a dramatic
contrast with the president’s predecessor.
These moments when President Obama spotlights the war dead
show us that somewhere the president is trying to not just change polices and
laws, but to change a consciousness. It is almost like the president is saying,
“we must all know about these sacrifices.” And if he is thinking that, he is
right. No matter our views on the wars we must remember those who make these
But I have to wonder, does support for the military
escalation in Afghanistan rise or fall when the president puts the war dead
front and center in the media?
For me, it doesn’t matter. The president is right to
spotlight these sacrifices no matter the impact on public perceptions.
President Obama was right to go to Dover and he was right to visit Section 60.
Thank you, again, Mr. President.