A little over three weeks ago, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz visited American military bases in Germany and, while there, delivered speeches to gatherings of Department of Defense officials and members of the Family Readiness groups. His visit coincided with the full onset of absentee voting by American military personnel, and the trip was paid for by US taxpayers; but handshakes, speeches and personal photographs weren't the only things he delivered.
He also brought with him a stack of DVDs, fresh from the White House assembly line, containing a short speech by Laura Bush, directed at school-age children of military parents. The DVDs were distributed to the attendees to the Wolfowitz soirees, which included Department of Defense school administrators, and they were subsequently shown to children by homeroom teachers and school counselors. I received a transcript of the speech from a concerned base resident who got my email address from a recent piece on the military that appeared on this site. Here's the transcript of Mrs. Bush's speech, in full (I have also obtained confirmation of this presentation from other sources in Germany):
"Message from Mrs. Laura Bush"
"Greetings from back home in America.
President Bush and I are thinking about you and your families while your mom or dad is protecting our country and helping people in other nations build a better life. People all across the world have witnessed the bravery and the courage of your parents. We’ve seen their kindness, especially to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. In those two countries, your parents have helped to free millions of families and children from violence and hatred. They’ve given children everywhere, especially here in America, the chance to grow up in peace.
As they defend our country and advance freedom, they’re also changing people’s lives. Your moms and dads are supplying whole villages with their first taste of clean water. They’re delivering medicine to sick children and supplies to hospitals. They’re rebuilding schools so that millions of children can study and learn. In fact, thanks to your parents, little girls who were not allowed to read or to sit in a classroom at all are going to school for the first time in their lives. You should be incredibly proud of your parents, just as every American is grateful for their service.
We’re also incredibly proud of you. You don’t fly jet planes or wear uniforms, but as children of our troops, you serve too. The courage with which you do so is an inspiration to us all. You face the challenge of moving to new bases, new schools, and even new countries. You have to learn new languages, and make new friends while helping your parents at home with housework, babysitting, and lots of letter writing. And the hardest part, you worry about your moms and dads far away.
I know being apart from the people you love is not easy, but as long as there is hatred in the world, there will be a need for brave men and women like your parents to protect America. We’ll never forget their commitment to our country. As your moms and dads are helping others, I hope you’ll continue to help your families at home. You can set the table for your mom or dad, or read to your brothers and sisters. You can clean up your room without being asked, or write a special letter to your parents where they are deployed. And keep studying and working hard in school. Being kind to others, helping around the house, and doing well in school are great ways you can support and honor your parents.
Remember that people all across America care about you and your parents. You are all in our thoughts and prayers. Next time you write to your mom or dad, tell them how much President Bush and I appreciate their courage and dedication. Thank you for everything that you do to support your families and serve your country. May God grant you strength and patience, and may God bless America."
Coming, as it did, with the arrival of the absentee ballots, this little classroom "tutorial" by the wife of the Commander-in-Chief represents a particularly nefarious form of psychological manipulation, one that should not go unnoticed or remain unchallenged.
I am not primarily referring, by the way, to Mrs. Bush's Rovian spin on the "kindness" we have shown in Iraq, where the majority of these students' parents are deployed and where, according to her, we have "free(d) millions of families from violence and hatred" (I haven't seen a violence-and-hatred-quotient comparison between the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein and the devastation/upheaval caused by the US invasion and occupation, but I can't imagine that that comparison would be flattering to the occupiers). Nor am I primarily referring to her rose-colored conflation of the smattering of school girls in Afghanistan who are finally getting a chance to learn in their bombed-out classrooms, with the millions of Iraqi girls who, if truly free elections are permitted, are likely to be subjected to fundamentalist strictures for the first time in their lives. Nor, yet, am I referring primarily to her depictions of US activities in Iraq as "defend(ing) our country" and as being a humanitarian windfall for the Iraqis - depictions that whither in the lights, respectively, of Iraq's well-established pre-invasion weakness and of the estimated 100,000 Iraqi deaths caused by US aggression. No, all of those points (which are being made to school children, no less, within educational environments) are as flimsy as any propaganda the Bush administration has ever concocted. But they are just the build-up in the first two paragraphs of this address to the real message that Karl Rove intends to impress on the kids in the last three.
In each of those final paragraphs there is the suggestion, gently but firmly placed, that the school children should be writing "lots of...special letter(s)" to their parents, suggestions that, if divorced from the propaganda that preceeded them, are healthy and commendable, especially for kids who are separated for long periods from a mother or father. But these suggestions aren't divorced from re-election propaganda in this presentation, and as such, they represent a not-so-subtle manipulation of childhood emotional vulnerablilty, especially given the stress-of-separation that these kids are operating under.
The icing on the cake, however, is in the last paragraph where the President's wife actually gives a directive to these kids - children starved of and hungering for the presence of one (or both) of their parents: "Next time you write to your mom or dad, tell them how much President Bush and I appreciate their courage and dedication." Keep in mind that the children were shown this DVD just as their parents were about to cast their votes for or against her husband, and that most of the kids could send these letters online, to be received in Iraq or Afghanistan immediately. Not only that; also keep in mind that, for the smaller children especially, the non-serving parent (also a possible voter) would be involved in the letter-writing process.
Of course, all this begs the question of who paid for this little exercise in Machiavellian-theory application - not that it matters, because whether it was the US taxpayer or the Committee to Re-elect that produced the DVD, it is an outrage, and it would remain an outrage and a violation of the integrity of DoD educational institutions even if it hadn't been staged to coincide with overseas voting for the re-election of the speaker's husband. Let me demonstrate.
Imagine the following likely scenario, if you will:
"Mommy, I'm home! Can you help me write a letter to Daddy?"
"Sure, honey, he's on the computer right now!"
"Oh, good. Mrs. Bush wants us me to write him and tell him that the President really thinks he's brave!"
"Really! Who told you Mrs. Bush wants you to do that?"
"Mrs. Bush did, mommy! She talked to us today when Mr. Wilson visited our class after lunch and I have to write a lot more letters to Daddy because he is doing so much to help the children in Iraq and I have to keep my room cleaner too. She said I'm brave, too, mommy - and she thanked me!"
"That's so sweet! I didn't know Mrs. Bush was in Germany, honey. That's exciting! Why didn't the school let me know?"
"No, silly, she was on the video, but she was talking to us in class. Come on, let's write the letter!"
"I see. OK, honey; daddy will love to hear from you. What do you want to say?"
" 'Dear Daddy: You are so brave. Mrs. Bush said so and the President said so too, at our school today. I love you and keep helping the little girls in...' where is he again, mommy?"
" Fallujah, honey."
"Oh, yeah: '...keep helping the little girls in Fallujah. Love, Suzy.' "
Can you imagine? Karl Rove can.
Bruce Cole is a carpenter, songwriter, activist and father living in Maine. He recently helped draft legislation, which eventually passed, outlawing paperless voting machines and online voting in the state. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.