Personally, I found the story of Pat Tillman deeply moving but unexceptional. By which I mean, that I think of this man as an Army Ranger, and the fact that he gave up a lucrative football contract incidental to the fact that he sacrificed his life for something he believed in.

It's Tillman's ultimate, not his financial sacrifice, that is the issue. We have a nation founded on the ideal of personal liberty. That liberty comes at cost. During World War II, that liberty was truly at risk, because there was a force of arms and might that - had it succeeded in conquering Europe - would have rivaled our own, and plunged us into eternal conflict.

The war today is about ideas, but we are not at risk in the same way. People speak of how the Islamists want to enslave us all and force us to convert to Shari'a and wear burkas and whatnot, but this is ultimately a fantasists' dream. There is no mechanism by which those who wage war against us as they did on 9-11 can actually implement their deranged fantasies, any more than these guys will ever succeed in liberating the Republic of Texas from the Northern Aggressor.

The only way that these people can ever hope to actually defeat the United States - as opposed to killing US citizens and destroying US property - is to amass the same kind of warfare capability that the Nazis almost achieved. Or to cause us to sacrivfice the ideals by which we define ourselves, but that's a discussion for another day.

The point is that Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan was indeed blood that watered the tree of our liberty, because Afghanistan remains a crucible for Al-Qaeda to pursue it's war against us. Any foothold that Al-Qaeda gains must be eradicated, to keep them marginalized and forever unable to amass the mindshare that could someday lead to the kind of massed-millions taking up arms against us as we saw in World War II.

However, the photos of our soldiers coming home from Iraq - draped in flags - is something else. They died not in the service of our freedom, but in the service of an experiment - an experiment that might, under better leadership, have been worth pursuing. The incompetence of the present Administration has not escaped honest conservative analysts, but convincing Bush's true believers of such is a pointless task.

Just as there's a real problem with hiding these photos, there's a real problem with releasing them. Josh Marshall explains:

For many opponents of the war there is an unmistakable interest in getting these photographs before the public in order to weaken support for the war. There's no getting around that.
But one needn't oppose the war to find something morally unseemly about the strict enforcement of the regulations barring any images of the reality behind these numbers we keep hearing on TV. There is some problem of accountability here.

Also see Phil Carter's thoughts. To some extent, Marshall understates the case - these photos have been eagerly seized upon as mere symbolic fodder to argue that Bush is wrong and the war is wrong without any real attempt to understand what the photos actually mean. They are just ammunition, and the cynical use of them as such is partly why the strict regulations against their publication exist in the first place.

These photos need to be seen NOT because they have any relevance to President Bush, but because they remind we, the People, of the cost of war. They remind us of the high standard which accompanies any claim upon our sons and daughters to once again water the tree of liberty. They demand from us that we hold our government accountable for how they spend this precious currency. Thy require that we be more informed, that we educate ourselves, and ask critical questions about the arguments given for war.

Is it worse to do a thing badly or not at all? The mis-management of Iraq will have outcomes yet unknown, and I pray for success but with little optimism under the auspices of the present Administration. I will vote Kerry, not Bush, not to punish Bush for starting a war but to allow Kerry to win it. But these photos need to be seen in the meantime, because when next a President goes before the People and says, we must again water the tree of liberty, we must remember these draped flags. Not just Republicans or Liberal Hawks or Leftist peaceniks - all of us.

Ultimately, we sent these men to Iraq. That's what these photos tell us.

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