If the recent political theater that is the presidential elections has shown us one thing, it is that death is an easy tool to politicize. From the mother of a Benghazi attack victim to gold star parents, those who have sacrificed the most find their names politicized in ways they never could have imagined. So what is appropriate, socially and morally, and how is the best way to memorialize these individuals?
Patricia Smith took center stage at the Republican National Convention, blaming the Democratic nominee for the death of her son, Sean Smith in an attack in Benghazi, Libya. Stating, “… I have repeatedly asked Hillary Clinton to explain to me the real reason why my son is dead.” This seems intriguing because, after multiple investigations by the Benghazi committee, no direct evidence of malicious intent was identified, nor was it determined that another reasonable person without hindsight would have acted differently. Further, it must be remembered that the people most responsible for the crimes committed against her son, were in fact the people who committed the crimes. One should never forget that the responsibility for the action must be held by those who performed the actions.
Since finding the individuals who attacked and asking them the real reason for their attack is difficult to say the least, besides to be told that an attack occurred, it is a valid question as to what difference it could possibly make today why they were attacked, but that they were. We do not ask why the 9-11 attackers attacked the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, but recognize the loss of life that they did.
On the opposite side was the Khan family, remembering their son Humayun Khan, a US Army Captain who died in a suicide bombing in 2004 in Iraq. The father called out Trump’s comments against Muslims, minorities, women and “even his own party leadership.” He goes on to say that his son was the best of America, a child who came to the United States at a young age and chose to serve his country, and sacrificed his life in the process.
Both instances are politicizing the memory of the dead. Both families are still reeling from the loss of their loved ones. As Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby in 1864 identified: “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
Is either speech appropriate? In the case of Patricia Smith, her anguish – though evident, seeks to divide. Her frustration is hers, and no one can take that from her, but her choice on how to use it makes all the difference. She could advocate for better security procedures for overseas postings, more money to be spent to protect our representatives abroad. Instead her comments reflect only her anger. The Khan family uses the honored memories of their son to show the logical failures in hate and fear mongering that are being encouraged by the Republican nominee. They seek to identify the best of their country, and discourage continued hate.
Regardless of who they are calling out, the cherished memories of our loved ones should be used to seek out the very best of the reasons they chose to serve their country in the first place. Using their names and memories to show anger expresses a disservice to their choices and history. They made decisions that should be honored and respected. Politicizing their memories simply does a disservice to them.