In his State of the Union address on Jan. 31, President Bush made the case for continuing the war in Iraq. He argued that “we must keep our word, defeat our enemies and stand behind the American military in its vital mission.”
President Bush then invoked the name of Dan Clay. “Marine Staff Sgt. Dan Clay was killed last month fighting the enemy in Falluja,” Bush said. “He left behind a letter to his family, but his words could just as well be addressed to every American. Here is what Dan wrote: ‘I know what honor is. It has been an honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to… Never falter! Don’t hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting.’”
A shot of Dan Clay’s family sitting in the audience then flashed across the screen. Next, Dan’s picture came up alongside a profile of Bush, smiling in uniform. Dan Clay and his family present a stark contrast to Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in April 2004.
Sheehan famously sought a meeting with President Bush, camping outside his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and protesting at the White House. Bud Clay is Dan Clay’s father, and his response to the death of his son was quite different from Sheehan’s.
After his son was killed, Bud Clay wrote a letter to President Bush, which reads in part: “Dan was a Christian – he knew Jesus as Lord and Savior – so we know where he is. In his final letter (one left with me for the family – to be read in case of his death) he says ‘if you are reading this, it means my race is over.’ He’s home now – his and our real home. I am writing to you – to tell you how proud and thankful we (his parents and family) are of you and what you are trying to do to protect us all.”
Dan Clay’s last letter is the one Bush quoted. Dan starts off by writing, “This letter being read means that I have been deemed worthy of being with Christ… This is not a bad thing. It is what we hope for. The secret is out. He lives and His promises are real! It is not faith that supports this… but fact and I now am a part of the promise. Here is notice! Wake up! All that we hope for is Real. Not a hope. But Real.”
The letters from Dan and Bud Clay are a far cry from Cindy Sheehan’s now-famous open letter to Bush, which includes these lines: “We are going to do everything in our power to have you impeached for misleading the American people into a disastrous war and for mis-using and abusing your power as Commander-in-Chief. We are going to scream until our last breath to bring the rest of our babies home from this quagmire of a war that you have gotten our country into.”
As it happens, Sheehan also attended the State of the Union, as a guest of Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.). Only Sheehan was arrested before the start of the address for wearing a T-shirt that read “2245 Dead. How many more?”
The Clays’ letters are on a website (forums.techguy.org) under a discussion titled, “Are there any evangelical Christians out there?” They were reposted at marinecorpsmom.com by “Deb,” one of the editors at the site, who appears to be Deb Conrad of Lebanon, Ore., mother of Lance Cpl. Shane Conrad. In her post on the Clay letters, Deb wrote “I would love to see this
father, who understands the true meaning of honor and who continues to support his son, given the same media attention given to Cindy Sheehan.”
Her wish has been granted. But what does it mean that the one soldier Bush chooses to highlight – one of the 2,254 U.S. soldiers killed in the war in Iraq – apparently had strong ties to the evangelical community, and was fighting for his god at least as much as his country? In promoting Dan Clay and his family to the nation and the world, Bush has reinforced the dangerous perception that the war on Iraq is a war between Christianity and Islam.
The idea that Bush is sending covert messages to his fundamentalist base is nothing new – historian Bruce Lincoln argues that there have been coded Christian references in Bush’s speeches for years, including subtle references to a holy war.
And some not-so subtle references – on September 16, 2001, Bush said America was embarking upon a “crusade” against terrorism. Dan Clay was chosen carefully for mention in the State of the Union, and his religious ties and beliefs are no secret. Bush has sent a message not just to Christians in America but to Muslims as well – the soldiers he celebrates are the holy warriors.