So Crazy I Tried to Bury a Cat with My Daughter

On July 6, 1992, Tory, my fourteen-year old daughter died after a ten year battle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The grief one feels at the loss of a child is indescribable. The natural order is for children to bury their parents. Burying a child seems like a perversion of that order.

For at least a year I viewed the world through a prism of grief. While everyone grieves differently, it was just before the worst Christmas of my life that I began to realize my daughter was not at camp, not off at school and, above all, not coming back. For a couple of months in that winter of 1993, I ended each workday with a trip to the florist to buy a rose which I mournfully laid on my daughter’s grave. That winter our cat Barney, who had outlived our daughter by six years, finally succumbed to old age. Since Barney had always been “Tory’s cat,” I decided to bury him with her. My wife panicked as I headed for the car with a shovel in one hand and a dead cat in the other. Fortunately, she talked me out of that very bad idea…one which, if it didn’t land me in jail, would at least have made folks wonder about my sanity. And they would have wondered correctly because I was crazy with grief.

Cindy Sheehan is filtering everything through a similar prism of grief. Like any grieving parent she deserves our understanding and sympathy. What she does not deserve is to be used by an anti-war movement that could not care less about her, the life of her son or the lives of American servicemen fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was in college during the anti-war movement of the 1960s. In 1968, I “came clean for Gene” when Senator Eugene McCarthy ran in the Democratic primaries on an end-the-war-now platform. When McCarthy withdrew, I voted for Richard Nixon. What I wanted was to avoid serving in Vietnam. If bringing the boys home immediately was not an option (and, in retrospect it wasn’t) then nuking the North was okay by me…and I figured Nixon might do just that. That movement was both much larger and also more amorphous than today’s anti-war movement. It ran all the way from radicals on the far left — who held that the United States was acting like a behemoth in an illegal and unjustifiable war in which it was unleashing its cruelty on a peaceful and peace loving people whose goals resembled those of our founding fathers — to people who, like me, reasoned that if we were not going to fight to win, then we should get out.

The current anti-war movement coalescing around Cindy Sheehan is smaller but much more “hard-core.” It is driven by myths and lies focused on the presidency and administration of George W. Bush. Its mantras revolve around worn out themes. They believe the Bush presidency is illegitimate, and that he and his inner circle lied to get America into a war with Iraq to benefit American defense and petroleum interests, and to enrich Vice President Dick Cheney’s former associates at Halliburton. The real loonies among them believe the administration and Israel, not Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, were behind 9/11. While committed to discrediting the Bush administration, they also are frustrated by their inability to do so. Carping about “torture” at Guantanamo and the Downing Street Memo got them nowhere. What they are left with is a pitifully distraught and unstable mother. Cindy Sheehan needs better friends.

Like all wars, this war is an act of force aimed at the adversary’s will. Our enemies are al Qaeda and associated groups along with nations that support them — namely Iran and Syria. This enemy has adopted a strategy of erosion. Events like those taking place at “Camp Casey” make it clear to them that killing American soldiers is the best way to land a critical blow at America’s center of gravity: its will to fight.

The extreme left is at the heart of today’s anti-war movement. Protestations that they “are supporting our soldiers” are as disingenuous as the myths that drive them. In the end, they probably are not going to have any more effect on the conduct of the war than did the anti-war movement of the 1960s. What that earlier movement did, however, was to compel President Nixon to set a date for withdrawal, a date which ultimately got the troops home but also left South Vietnam poorly equipped to defend itself. Nixon’s own demons drove him to ends that led to his political demise over Watergate. For the ultimate legacy of the 1960s anti-war movement was not that it ended a war, but that it ended a presidency and created conditions whereby South Vietnam had no chance of long-term survival.

Cindy Sheehan is mad; not just furious but crazy with grief. I understand that. She needs people who understand and who can support her, not exploit her. She also needs better friends.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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