I was traveling last week, and everywhere I went, American flags were flying at half-mast in response to President Bush's order to lower the flag in honor of the deaths of 32 students at Virginia Tech University.
In the airports, television screens endlessly replayed video footage of the mass murderer's "explanation" for his senseless rampage. People watched, shook their heads, and went back to their magazines or paperbacks.
President Bush's order got a somewhat different response from an Army sergeant named Jim Wilt, who is stationed in Afghanistan. "I find it ironic," Wilt wrote, "that the flags were flown at half-staff for the young men and women who were killed at VT, yet it is never lowered for the death of a U.S. service member."
He noted that his post in Bagram obeyed the president's order even though the flag is not lowered for members of his unit who are killed in combat. He reasoned that it was because "it is a daily occurrence these days to see X number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan scrolling across the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen."
Which is true. On the day of the VT massacre, the names of six U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq scrolled across our televisions. You know nothing about these men and women, and neither do I. The only thing we do know is that they died in service to the flag that was flying at half-mast for 32 dead students — whose names and photos were published in most newspapers around the country.
I think lowering the flag for the students was the right action for the president to take. But I find it ironic that he can go to a memorial service for fallen students yet not find the time to attend the funeral of a single soldier who has died in the horrific fiasco he and his minions have created in Iraq.
I understand the impracticality of lowering the flag for each of the 3,700 men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we did so, it would be permanently at half-mast.
Which, come to think of it, is probably appropriate these days.