Our view: Don’t let the message overshadow the means

They’ve died for our country; because of a lie; for freedom; in an endless war; to further democracy.

Regardless of your beliefs and views on the war in Iraq, the fact is that 4,000 U.S. soldiers have died in it as of Sunday. These men and women were more than just numbers. They were siblings, parents, children and friends. They deserve to be remembered and honored, whether you believe it’s as heroes of our country or as victims of an unjust war.

On Monday, The Huffington Post, a left-leaning political blog, put up a piece of political artwork in “remembrance” of the soldiers who have died since the war began. The piece was a mosaic, and it took small portraits of the soldiers’ faces to create a composite image of President George W. Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The two are shown laughing, and the text above the image identifies them as the men who want to continue the war despite the losses of the soldiers’ lives.

It’s a strong image.

But where do we draw the line between remembrance and exploitation? Between political statements and art?

The mosaic specifically puts the responsibility for these deaths into the hands of the current president and a presidential candidate. There’s a few problems here. First, these two men are not the only political forces behind the war in Iraq. While Bush will be the president associated with the war, even blaming it solely on him would be misleading. The addition of McCain, who, as the primary races near the final stretch, is still fairly early in his overall presidential campaign, makes this image all the more volatile. Coming from a liberal media source, this comes across as a clear slam against the candidate.

And that makes this statement more exploitive than commemorative.

Perhaps those who died would support this statement. Maybe they would be appalled that their image was being used to further such a cause. The point is, we don’t know and we can’t know. No one can.

It’s exploitive to use the images of these men and women in support of any particular issue. It uses them without their permission, and it manipulates the emotions of the public. They can no longer speak for themselves, and it is inappropriate for someone to try to speak for them.

It’s not necessarily the message. When The Huffington Post put up the anti-war mosaic, it was exploitive. When President Bush said the 4,000 deaths were not “in vain” and that the war would continue, it was exploitive. Both used the soldiers as a way to illustrate their points, as a means to their own end.

There are better ways to remember these men and women – memorials, vigils, tributes – and better ways to spread a message. Leave the ones who are gone out of it. Instead, tell their stories. Show their faces. There are messages here to be learned in each life lost, just like there are when any life is lost.

But don’t attach a political message to them. Let people remember those who have died and make their own conclusions.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.