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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Was It Really That Difficult, Mr Secretary?

According to this Reuters report,
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will now personally sign letters of condolence to families of troops killed in action, after the Pentagon (news - web sites) acknowledged signing machines had been used in the past.
This official acknowledgement confirms what had earlier been alleged by Colonel David Hackworth.
And now, apparently, Rumsfeld's obsession with machines and their efficiency has translated into his using one to replace his own John Hancock on KIA (killed in action) letters to parents and spouses. Two Pentagon-based colonels, who've both insisted on anonymity to protect their careers, have indignantly reported that the SecDef has relinquished this sacred duty to a signature device rather than signing the sad documents himself.
When I went to Jim Turner, a good man saddled with a tough job as one of Rumsfeld's flacks at the Pentagon, for a confirmation or a denial, he said, "Rumsfeld signs the letters himself."
I then went to about a dozen next-of-kin of American soldiers KIA in Iraq. Most agreed with the colonels' accusations and said they'd noticed and been insulted by the machine-driven signature. One father bitterly commented that he thought it was a shame that the SecDef could keep his squash schedule but not find the time to sign his dead son's letter. Several also felt compelled to tell me that the letter they received from George Bush also looked as though it was not signed personally by the president.
Dr. Ted Smith, whose son Eric was among the first 100 killed in Iraq, notes that the letter he received "from the commander in chief was signed with a thick, green marking pen. I thought it was stamped then and do even now. He had time for golf and the ranch but not enough to sign a decent signature with a pen for his beloved hero soldiers. I was going to send the letter back but did not. I am sorry I didn't."
I am not particularly big on memorial ceremonies. To me it is the feelings that matter. One may be too busy to attend a funeral or express one's sympathy at length, but there is always time for a personal gesture,- a brief phone call, an e-mail, or,- in this particular case, a letter signed by one's own hand (and, preferably, at least read prior to that). However, it appears that Mr Rumsfeld could not squeeze the time to sign a little over a thousand letters over the period which lasted in excess of one year into his busy schedule,- that is, until negative publicity forced him to act otherwise. It is also highly likely, in my humble opinion, that a signing machine feels more sympathy for fallen soldiers than our Secretary of Defense.

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