Gold Star License Plates, For A War Invisible No More
This war has been curiously invisible at home, especially to the many millions of Americans who do not have loved ones in the military. A major downside of the volunteer military is that it allows most of us to live without a direct personal connection to those who choose to defend their country.
The Bush Administration has done all it can think of to keep the emotional impact of the war a good distance away from the hearts and minds of most voters. Unlike past wars, this time there are no photos permitted of the caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base, no presidential appearances at public ceremonies honoring the war dead.
Now, the father of an Army corporal who was killed in Afghanistan in 2002 is on the verge of winning a small victory in the battle to drive home to all of us that we are at war, and that our neighbors are dying in that effort. In memory of his son, Army Ranger Cpl. Matthew Commons, Gregory Commons has spent the past two years pushing the Virginia state bureaucracy to create a Gold Star license plate similar to ones issued in a dozen or so other states. (For example, here's Wisconsin's program. And here's what the Illinois Gold Star plate looks like.)
Finally, last week, Commons got word from the Virginia motor vehicles department that a license plate has been designed and is awaiting final approval. There are plenty of new ways to remember and honor those who fall for their country--Internet guest books, for example. This is one dedicated to Matthew Commons. But as with most things on the web, you kind of have to know what you're looking for to stumble upon that recognition of Commons' sacrifice. The Gold Star license plate sends a broader, more random message--it's decidedly Old Media, but remarkably democratic in its reach.
Greg Commons, who works in the Fairfax County public schools, persuaded Virginia to drop its rule that new license plate designs must be supported and requested by at least 350 motorists before a new kind of plate will be issued. Now, those Virginians who are kin to someone killed in active duty may impress that fact upon the rest of us as they go about their daily routines. Commons expects to receive his license plate in a center-aisle ceremony at the General Assembly in Richmond, probably sometime this month.
Americans disagree on the war, but until we see and feel it as if it were happening on our own shores, we won't really know where we stand, or how deeply we've thought through the mission and the stakes.
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