With the caveat that of course anything that brings comfort to the families of soldiers is in itself beneficial, I present a harrowing symbol of the loss and pain this war is inflicting on those families: flat daddies.
Flat daddies are two-dimensional full-color cut-outs of National Guard soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re provided by the National Guard (just the Maine one, as far as I can tell) to families of Guardsmen as a way to help them deal with the soldiers’ absence. The article is written in a very positive, human-interest sort of way, which I guess is the most sensitive way to do it…but to me, the whole thing is depressing, from the the picture of a smiling cut-out sitting between “his” kids in the car, to quotes like, “It’s to remind the kids that this guy and this woman [“flat mommies” are also made] is still part of your life, that this is what they look like, and this is how big they are.” I hope to God I’m never in such danger that my loved ones would need a reminder like that.
Pain and loss run through the whole article, reflected especially in the fetishistic importance these things take on. (The fact that some have been taken to the dentist and to confession is not, I assume, just a playful gag.) Imagine, too, what happens if the three-dimensional father is killed (which might have already happened). Would the cut-out become even more important to the family, as their last desperate hold on their lost husband or father? Or would it become a hateful object, a parody of their grief?
Mostly, this serves as a reminder of one of the ways in which I’m luckier than many people in this country (to say nothing of others): I miss a lot of people in my life—my fiancée, distant friends and family members—but they’re not seven thousand miles away, in immediate danger every day, and so having a flat, full-sized representation of them would be a silly overreaction rather than a vital piece of comfort. God willing, soon we’ll have a government that doesn’t put families in that situation quite so flippantly.