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Should presidents use wounded soldiers as political props?

January 29, 2014, at 1:59 PM
 
U.S. Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg gets a standing ovation during the State of the Union.

U.S. Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg gets a standing ovation during the State of the Union. Photo: (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

One of the most moving moments during this year's State of the Union address was when U.S. Army Ranger Sergeant Cory Remsburg received a two minute standing ovation after being praised by President Obama.

Remsburg was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2009. As ABC News reports, the explosion left him in a three-month coma and rendered him partially-paralyzed and brain damaged. After daily physical and speech therapy, Remsburg can walk and speak again.

Obama used the solider as a symbol of how America "never gives up" and "does not quit."

But was he right to invoke Remsburg this way?

The "hero in the balcony" has been a feature of nearly every State of the Union address since Ronald Reagan pointed to Lenny Skutnik in 1982 to commend him for rescuing a woman in the freezing Potomac river after a plane crash.

There's no argument that it was a very emotional moment. As Andrew Sullivan noted, "I've heard several presidents invoke military heroism in their speeches. I cannot recall one so moving."

But there was something also very different about Remsburg.

At TIME, Nick Gillespie (the editor-in-chief of libertarian Reason.com) puts it most clearly:

The government under Republican and Democratic presidents has spent virtually the entire 21st century sending young men and women to fight in ill-defined and unsuccessful elective wars. That's bad enough, but then to use them as props in political speeches? That's positively obscene. [TIME]

The politicians who spent two minutes saluting Remsburg seemed to evade responsibility for putting him there in the first place.

Sure Remsburg could be a symbol of a nation that doesn't quit. But he could also be a symbol of a nation that sometimes makes tragic mistakes as well.

 

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