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09.17.12

Mark McKinnon: Our Overly Political Response to Mideast Crisis

The response to the loss of American lives in the line of duty has been horrifically politicized. Mark McKinnon on the need to come together in times of crisis—or risk losing our own civility.

Glen Doherty. Sean Smith. Tyrone Woods. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Among them, fathers, husbands, brothers. All sons. All Americans. And all victims of savagery twice over.

While their blood was spilled on the sovereign soil of our embassy a world away in Benghazi, Libya, their sacrifice and service to the country was disrespected by the blood sport of politics right here in the United States, the supposed seat of civilization.

As their four, flag-draped caskets came home on Friday to Andrews Air Force Base, and their lives were memorialized by the president and secretary of state, some of their fellow Americans took to Twitter, accusing President Obama of using the event as nothing but a photo opportunity. Meanwhile, Governor Romney was accused of seeking political  advantage during a time of crisis. The words of comfort offered to the families were not heard. The anguish on Hillary Clinton’s face was not seen. The meaning of the four lives ignored.

Are we so consumed by our political differences that we cannot pause to honor our dead? To remember the families of the fallen?

The worst in us has been unleashed.

Rather than recognize the role of the president of the United States in bringing the country together in times of trial, we see him as a cold-hearted manipulator (not helped by his campaign team hawking sweatshirts on Twitter during the ceremony.) We ridicule our presidents for pausing for seven minutes in a classroom or for hours on the airwaves until the right, carefully thought-through response can be formulated. And rather than argue policy differences, we accuse opponents of being racist or of wishing women to die.

While we watch fires ablaze in the Middle East and judge other peoples as uncivilized, have we not lost civilization here?

This disease is not unique to Washington, D.C.

Are we so consumed by our political differences that we cannot pause to honor our dead? To remember the families of the fallen?

Also on Friday at a memorial service miles away in Texas, families and fellow officers gathered to honor the police officers, firefighters and emergency responders killed or seriously injured in the line of duty this year. While the governor of Texas consoled the children of the dead, placing his hands on the heads of two small sons, silent tears could be heard. So, too, could the incessant sirens just a few miles north as the University of Texas at Austin was evacuated for a hoax bomb threat.

A bomb threat. While emergency responders were being memorialized.

What has happened to this world?

There was a third memorial this weekend. This one at a small school on a hill for a professor who had lost his battle with cancer. Every seat in the chapel was taken. There was no talk of differences between people, but of the differences made by this one man. On display, a blanket. Squares of blue and white yarn. Not perfect. A few loose ends. And bumpy knots. Because it was crocheted by hand. By students who had never crocheted before. But they worked together to crochet a blanket to bring comfort to a dying man who brought them together, despite their differences.

America is supposed to be like that blanket. Not perfect. A few loose ends. And a lot of lumpy knots. But we always come together in the end.

At least we once did.

The ashes of Neil Armstrong were buried at sea last week. With his quiet dignity, he showed us what could be accomplished with one small step.

But it feels like he may be the last hero we’ve allowed ourselves to have and to honor.

If we cannot come together to pause, to respect our dead and the heroic lives of meaning they led, then ours is truly a civilization lost.