Soundtrack in my head: Josh Ritter, “Girl In The War”
In the New York Times this morning, I saw an article that at first creeped me out, and then made me want to cry. It had to do with families separated by war. On the bottom of page one was a picture of a young boy on a swing and a cardboard cut-out bust of his father in military fatigues on the swing next to him. The article is entitled “When Soldiers Go to War, Flat Daddies Hold Their Place at Home.”
The Maine National Guard is offering military families life-size cardboard cut-out photos of their loved ones stationed in the Middle East. These cut-outs, know as “Flat Daddies,” (or Mommiesl) are supposed to help families connect with their loved ones thousands of miles away. According to the article, these cardboard cut-outs are “toted everywhere from soccer practice to coffee shops to weddings.”
My first response was to the picture was, “This is creepy.” My second response was, “It’s not the cardboard cut-out that’s creepy.”
Indeed, it sounds like these “flat parents” are an effective coping mechanism for the families separated by war thousands of miles away. It also apparently helps reduce anxiety and helps really young children recognize their parents when they come home on leave. As one family member of a woman in the National Guard put it, “At first, it can take you aback, but it never did for me…I just felt like her presence is here. The Flat Soldier does provide comfort, and we’ll take it any way we can.”
Hey, if it helps them, it’s all good.
What’s creepy is the fact that a “flat parent” is necessary to begin with. That families have to be separated like this in the first place. I have one friend who signed up for the National Guard before September 11, 2001, and had no idea she might be deployed overseas. That was not her understanding of what her duties would be when she signed up.
I can’t imagine what these families must be going through. And as I think about it families in Iraq have it at least ten times worse, because for them, the war is not 10,000 miles away, but right in their neighborhoods, and people being killed are not enlisted in the military, but men, women and children caught in the crossfire, or praying in the wrong mosque, and this is a Pandora’s box opened up by our invasion of Iraq. We’re only helping the terrorists recruit more terrorists, as a recent declassified intelligence report confirmed what a lot of us have been saying all along.
I definitely don’t fault our soldiers. I fault our elected leaders. And as I read about the cardboard cut-out of a loved one deployed in the Middle East, propped up at the dinner table, helping a family cope with the separation from a loved on deployed tens of thousands away, I cannot help but think to myself, why? Why on God’s earth are we doing this in the first place?
How much longer must this go on?
A video from Josh Ritter expresses my sentiments perfectly. It is probably one of the bluntest protest songs ever about families separated by war.