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Gold Star Grief: Donald Trump's Attack On One Veteran's Family Is An Attack On Them All

The tombstone of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan is seen in  Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
The tombstone of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan is seen in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

In 1993, as a 17-year-old-boy with no way to pay for college, I enlisted in the Navy. I was lucky: The Clinton years were more or less peaceful, my generation of enlistees served with few losses. This was not so for the generation of sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen to follow, who continue to fight and die in conflicts with nebulous origins.

There were few commonalities between me and many of my shipmates back then, but what we shared was this: Each of us would have died in the service of our nation if that service demanded it. When those who serve join the military, we sign contracts in the full knowledge of what that contract means. But our commitment also binds our family to the specter of death, ever looming until the contract expires — or we do.

A military death is not an event that happens in a vacuum. When a service member falls, a nation loses one of its champions. Unit members lose one of those rare few who have shared with them the worst experiences of humanity and who have forged a bond in those experiences. Communities lose leaders.

When those who serve join the military, we sign contracts in the full knowledge of what that contract means. But it also binds our family as well to the specter of death, ever looming until the contract expires -- or we do.

And families lose their right to grieve in private. They must sit dignified and receive a folded flag, symbol of their nation’s gratitude. They might have to endure parades and comfort other families who find themselves in the same bewildering and devastating condition. They carry on the legacy and responsibilities of their lost loved one, and they do it with the eyes of the public upon them.

Gold Star Families are those who have lost an immediate family member in military service. During the First World War, soldiers' families adopted a flag adorned with blue stars for every family member away at war. Death in combat changed a soldier's star from blue to gold and conferred honor on the "Gold Star Family" who, in paying so high a price, gained the esteem of their community.

It is every single one of these noble families that Donald Trump assails when he attacks the parents of Captain Humayun Khan.

Captain Khan was born in the United Arab Emirates, one of the Muslim nations from which Trump wants to ban immigrants. A unit commander, Khan ordered his soldiers back while he went forward to investigate a suspicious vehicle. When it exploded, Khan was killed but his men were spared, just as he had intended for them to be.

This is the “terrorist” Trump would ban from our borders.

Khizr Khan's impassioned speech at the Democratic National Convention, showed a love for America and a knowledge of the Constitution that most natural born citizens would be hard-pressed to match. The slain captain's father challenged Trump to read the Constitution, to know how dangerous and hurtful his words and ideas are. Khan and his wife, Ghazala, continue to grieve for the sacrifice their son made a dozen years ago. We owe them the debt of listening to what they have to say.

If Trump wants to attack veterans, well, we’re tough. We can take it. It is quite another thing to attack those families who have sacrifice thrust upon them in the most painful and public way.

Instead, Trump attacked the pair, implying that Khan’s mother — wracked by her grief into silence -- was forbidden by her husband and her Muslim faith from speaking.

In doing so, Trump has proven himself  unworthy of the Khans' and their son's sacrifice and of the sacrifices he will demand as president. He is unworthy of the honor of the office he seeks.

And this is where Captain Khan’s heroism is most defined: He gave his life for a nation that would nominate a man for president who would have banned him from being here in the first place. He gave his life because he believed in his adopted homeland, in the ideals set forth in its Constitution, and in the better world he envisioned for himself and for his family.

If Trump wants to attack veterans, well, we’re tough. We can take it. It is quite another thing to attack those families who have sacrifice thrust upon them in the most painful and public way. And still, the Captain Khans of the nation — along with their families — will continue to give in the belief that we are better than our lesser angels.

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Ben Jackson Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Ben Jackson is a writer.

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