October 18, 2017

MICHAEL BARONE: Dignified silence is the proper response on presidential condolence calls.

As I recall, former President George W. Bush came under criticism, from journalists and Democrats, for supposedly not calling family members of military personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq more than a decade ago. The subtext was that he was callous about the tragic human cost of the military actions he ordered. It turned out that Bush did communicate and even meet with family members, only without any public mention.

It is only because the number of deaths in military action are an order of magnitude lower than in previous American wars that this question could even be raised. Something like 450,000 American military personnel died in World War II. By my calculation, if Presidents Roosevelt and Truman had made consolation calls to family members, they would have had to make a call every 4.3 minutes, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, in the 1,371 days between Pearl Harbor and V-J Day.

Even now, with far fewer deaths, it surely is, as Trump said, a difficult duty making such calls. He, like his two predecessors, knows these men and women died carrying out their orders. You have to be very cynical—more cynical than I am—to think that Bush, Obama, and Trump would not find these conversations emotionally draining.

So let’s allow this president, as most of us allowed or should have allowed his two predecessors, write these letters and make these calls in private. Let journalists and others quit bombarding him with questions about whether he’s done so.

Related: Wa Po Factchecker: “We could not find any contemporaneous evidence” of Obama calling fallen soldiers. Gives no rating.

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