Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lt. Bradshaw Comes Home

(The body of Army 1st Lt. Brian Bradshaw arrives at Dover Air Force Base, 6/27/09. Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Roland Balik.)

Please go read this deeply moving letter that was printed as an Op-Ed in this morning's Washington Post. It was written by two members of the Air National Guard team that transported the body of Army 1st Lt. Brian Bradshaw from the forward base where he was killed to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bradshaw was killed on June 25, 2009, the day Michael Jackson died. On July 5, the Post published an eloquent letter from Bradshaw's aunt, Martha Gillis, of Springfield, VA, which criticized the media for offering wall-to-wall coverage of a singer's death while practically ignoring the deaths of Lt. Bradshaw and the several other soldiers who died that week in Afghanistan. Capt. James Adair and Master Sgt. Paul Riley wrote their letter, a detailed account of the hundreds of soldiers from Lt. Bradshaw's company who stood in formation on the runway in total darkness as their plane touched down to retrieve his body, to let the family know that his death had not gone unnoticed or unmourned. Here are a couple of paragraphs, but please go read the whole thing:

Brian's whole company had marched to the site with their colors flying prior to our arrival. His platoon lined both sides of our aircraft's ramp while the rest were standing behind them. As the ambulance approached, the formation was called to attention. As Brian passed the formation, members shouted "Present arms" and everyone saluted. The salute was held until he was placed inside the aircraft and then the senior commanders, the sergeant major and the chaplain spoke a few words.

Afterward, we prepared to take off and head back to our base. His death was so sudden that there was no time to complete the paperwork needed to transfer him. We were only given his name, Lt. Brian Bradshaw. With that we accepted the transfer. Members of Brian's unit approached us and thanked us for coming to get him and helping with the ceremony. They explained what happened and how much his loss was felt. Everyone we talked to spoke well of him -- his character, his accomplishments and how well they liked him. Before closing up the back of the aircraft, one of Brian's men, with tears running down his face, said, "That's my platoon leader, please take care of him."

Why do you need to interrupt your Web-surfing to click over and read something that will make you cry or otherwise upset you? Several reasons.

You need to read it as a penance for every moment you spent reveling in the orgy of coverage of Michael Jackson's death. Yes, he had a significant impact on music, dance, and popular culture, but you have to admit the coverage was wildly out of proportion to anything remotely approximating Jackson's actual significance.

You need to read it because combat deaths are rising in Afghanistan, and none of us is paying careful enough attention. That needs to change. Immediately. Whatever your position on the escalation of troops, you need to face the consequences of the United States expanding its involvement in some of the most dangerous parts of one of the most unstable countries on earth. Earlier this week, in a story about how hard the president is working behind the scenes to get health-care reform passed, White House senior advisor David Axelrod audaciously compared President Obama to Lyndon Johnson for having "a big vision" for the country and "a great appreciation for the legislative process." Let's hope that so far wholly unjustified comparison to LBJ doesn't get born out in another American presidency brought down by its commitment to an unwinnable war.

You need to read it because WaPo needs to see that readers care about such stories. There is disturbing evidence that editorial and staffing decisions, particularly at bastions of print journalism now painfully transitioning to a mostly nonprint environment, are being made on the basis of what gets clicked on and what doesn't. Page-view data seems to have played a role, for example, in the Post's recent decision to terminate Dan Froomkin, a liberal columnist whose blog White House Watch suffered some slump in traffic once Obama took office. If you don't click on stories like this, then you won't see stories like this.

(Of course, another part of the problem is the issue of how easy [or not] it is for readers to find "stories like this" in the online versions of big papers like WaPo and NYT. Moose noticed the story about Lt. Bradshaw because she spent time this morning with the dead-tree edition of the paper, which she no longer does with the same religious dedication she used to have. Had she only read the online version, she likely would not have clicked on the piece because it wasn't well-promoted and the authors weren't names she recognized. Also, part of what grabbed her attention in the dead-tree version of the story was a compelling photo, similar to the one at the top of this post. Moose scoured the Post Web site looking for the image and could not find it. This is a consistent and, to Moose, deeply annoying pattern with WaPo online. Why deny Web readers the visual elements of a story? And why separate images from stories in cheesy galleries of "Photos From Today's Post" that don't, in fact, include all of the photos from today's Post?)

Pardon the rant, but you know how my typist gets when someone thwarts her quest for eye candy. Anyway, go read that story, then come back here and tell us what you think about the escalation of troops in Afghanistan. And while we are ordering your eyeballs around, please do not under any circumstances click on the profile of antiabortion lunatic Randall Terry (no link here) that ran in today's Style section. Shakesville's Melissa McEwan tears the piece to shreds for failing to convey "Terry's intimate association with the exhortation of violence against abortion doctors and his extended history of harassment." Per usual, Liss is spot-on. The article will help to resurrect the career of a man who ought to be consigned to the dustbin of history -- or held accountable for the violence he helped to inspire -- as quickly as possible. It is, as Liss puts it, "gobsmackingly irresponsible." Do not give it a click!

You have your orders, darlings. Obey and be happy. Peace out.


  1. Rox, thank you so much for this. I have been sobbing, so much so that when I think I'm going to stop, I sob all the more. That should tell you something about what I think about the "escalation of troops in Afghanistan." Rox, you know, Moose knows, anyone who's listened to me talk about the Vietnam Memorial knows that when I go there, I always look up Albert Tijerina, Jr. (Panel 04W - Line 15). He was my brother's friend, the handsome drum major who carried me on his shoulders up to the basketball goal. For him my brother stood in the bitter cold February 17, 2007, and cried and cried. Albert, 27 years old when he died March 1, 1971, was 27 years gone. There is no excuse for the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. And you know what? I'm pretty confident that if LBJ had it to do all over again, he would have found a way out of Viet Nam and would not have escalated the troops at all. So. . .that's what I thin, Rox.

    I love you very, very much. Let's give peace a chance.

  2. Rox. . .of course I meant--that's what I THINK (not "thin"). LBJ would not, absolutely would not, do it (the Viet Nam War) all over again. He grew out his hair at the end of his life and started to look a bit like the hippies he scorned and who so hated him. . .given another opportunity, he would give peace a chance, and not through force, either.

  3. Eden's Innuendo10:11 AM EDT

    I just put a quote at the top of my website — it says:

    "Equality requires effort!" ~ Sonia Sotomayor

    It requires a big time effort to do a blog like Roxie's World, and to write so well, but the reader has to be willing to put the work in too. I am so proud of you, Rox, bravely standing at attention for the tough stuff this morning. Shame us into it! As you did today, yes it helps!

    Hi Goose, hugs for your sorrow, dear friend.


  4. Thank you Rox for helping me adjust my focus. I remember as a kid not understanding exactly what was meant by casualty counts. Now that I do, seeing what's going on with the press - the minimization of these "numbers" - is frightening.

    I was sadly disappointed that not much press space was given to the passing of Farrah Fawcett in comparison to MJ. This article accomplished its goal, my heart is breaking for ALL of those families that have suffered the loss of their children. ...and for the sleight of hand being played with what the press considers important versus what it's given short shrift.

  5. 'Tis the duty of a citizen to pay attention, and that's all we're trying to do. Thanks for keeping Sotomayor on our radar screens, EI -- We've not paid a lot of attention to her hearings because they seem so scripted, on all sides, so bound to do nothing, reveal nothing. We just look forward to the moment when she takes her place on the bench. We'll put all our paws in the air then, I promise!

    One point that didn't get made in this post, which speaks to Scullery Dog Sam's point about the difficulty of taking in casualty counts, is how important it is that the Obama administration has reversed the policy on photographing coffins of American service personnel. Such images are a powerful means to honor the sacrifices of our soldiers, and they help viewer/citizens to absorb the terrible reality of those sacrifices. In very important ways, we cannot know what we do not see, which is why it was so disappointing that the online version of the Post's story on Lt. Bradshaw did not include the picture of his coffin.

  6. The hearings were kind of fun to watch - with Sotomayor deflecting some of the more inappropriate questions with such poise and judicial prudence that it resulted in some of the senators getting a bit frustrated. teehee...

    Good for a laugh Rox in these trying times.


  7. Roxie, old friend, what's gotten into you? Spending too much time with your somber moms, I think. I am sorry you are burdened with so much sorrow.

    Okay, I do credit my own very self for not watching TV until the Jackson orgy was over. The celebrity culture makes me gag and I try to avoid gagging as much as possible in this sorry world.

    I think you give LBJ too much credit. I thought of this with the passing of the war criminal who was his defense secretary. Regrets don't bring back the dead. Regrets do not bring these young folks, slain for the egos of the powerful, back to their families (not to mention the 2,000,000 Vietnamese slaughtered for those egos).

    Roxie, I am so tired of this kind of death.

    Haven't watched much of the Sotomayor hearings either --predictably horrific, as you know. The Daily Show has the best daily summary.

    Remember, too, that WaPo is the newspaper of the inside-the-beltway establishment. Why would they want to show us the war that that establishment does not want you to see?

    Here's to all those -- families of the soldiers, fellow soldiers, friends of human rights, peace-lovers around the world -- who insist that we SEE!

    I love you, Roxie. Here's also to the better world about which we continue to dream.

  8. One small correction to Margaret's comment: McNamara was in fact Kennedy's Sec. Def. before he was LBJ's, and then he resigned under LBJ.

    Quite frankly, I'd like to see the spirit of LBJ reincarnated in the White House now, except for that whole unwinnable war thingy. I'd like to see the guts and the courage to play LBJ-style hardball. You don't win friends by capitulating to them--you intimidate them out of being your enemies. Respect is closely related to fear.

    Thanks for encouraging us all to think about our media consumption habits. For myself, I wasn't that interested in Michael Jackson in life, so I wasn't all that interested in his death. Now, if anything should ever happen to Sarah Jessica Parker however...

    Live, dammit! LIVE ON!

  9. Roxie, I hope you'll get this since I'm responding to a very old post. I'm the aunt who wrote the letter. Thank you so much for calling people's attention to both letters and for your sage advice about ensuring the media get feedback that let's them know to keep up the coverage. My main concern in writing, however, is to inquire about the photo accompanying your post. I'd like to get a copy and get permission to include it in the blog I've started as a result of all this. Can you give me contact info?

  10. Dear Dr. Gillis,

    Thanks so much for your kind words about the post. Our sincere condolences to you and your family on your loss. Your nephew's story was one that moved us deeply. No soldier's sacrifice should go unnoticed, but that happens far too often when the media prefer sensationalism and the people prefer to deny the realities of war.

    As for the photo, it seems the link we had embedded has expired, so I'm not sure how to help you. I assume you tried searching under your nephew's name or the photographer's name on the Air Force Mortuary web site. Beyond that, I am not sure. We'll do some searching and post a follow-up comment if we turn anything up.

    Thanks again for writing.


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