WAR DEATHS….War supporters are betraying more than they realize by their panicky reaction to recent media portrayals of Americans who have died in the Iraqi war. Some examples:

  • Robert Alt writes at NRO about the four contractors whose charred bodies were hung from a bridge in Fallujah last month. He objects to the New York Times running a picture of this because, although he believes their editors intended for it to enrage, “the Times meant this rage to be directed not primarily toward the terrorists, but toward those politicians who brought us to this inhospitable land.”

    I wonder why he’s so convinced of that? I ran the same picture when I wrote a post about the events in Fallujah, and I remember doing it for exactly the opposite reason. I was afraid that a graphic portrayal of what the Fallujah insurgents did to American citizens might fan the war flames, but figured that people ought to see it anyway. After all, that’s what we’re up against.

  • Conservative pundits were rabidly opposed to releasing pictures of military coffins being delivered to Dover, and I even semi-debated one of them on a radio program a few days ago. He thought it showed a lack of sensitivity. But as I wrote last week, I just don’t get it: “It’s almost impossible not to be moved by these photos, and impossible not to recognize from them how much care is taken with the bodies and how seriously these deaths are taken.”

  • Ted Koppel plans to read the names of all the soldiers killed to date in Iraq on tonight’s Nightline, and the folks at Sinclair Broadcast Group have decided not to air the show on their stations. As Keith Berry points out, Sinclair’s loyalties are pretty obviously with the Bush administration, and they have apparently decided that honoring our war dead in this way is a political statement aimed at undermining support for the war.

    But Washington Monthly editor Ben Wallace-Wells emails to say he discussed Nightline on a radio show in a deeply Republican area of North Carolina recently and got a different reaction:

    The host and his sidekick (whose brother was KIA in Vietnam) opposed Koppel on the established conservative line: it’s politically opportunistic, it’s a cynical ratings-grab, it’s unpatriotic to drum up opposition to a war president. But we heard from 6 or 7 callers, all but one conservative (and even the Democrat was a military wife), and to a person they disagreed with the hosts, thought the reading was noble and honorable, a proper way to honor our dead. Some still agreed that the timing was opportunistic, politically motivated, but nevertheless they said they supported the name-reading.

    Maybe the Sinclair executives need to get out more.

All this leads me to believe that war supporters need to get a grip. In a popular war, battlefield losses serve to redouble public commitment to the fight, and honoring the dead is viewed as a solemn and patriotic gesture. It’s only in unpopular wars that combat deaths cause public support to decline.

Present day conservatives seem to unthinkingly assume that any public acknowledgement of Iraqi war deaths is obviously just an underhanded political gesture designed to weaken support for the war. This is partly a result of their paranoid conviction that the sole purpose of the media is to undermine conservative causes, but it’s also a tacit admission that this is, fundamentally, a war with very shallow support indeed. If they really believed in the war and in the administration’s handling of it, they’d show some backbone and welcome Ted Koppel’s gesture of respect tonight. Instead they’re acting as if they’re ashamed we’re over there.