The Corner

The Play’s The Thing

A week ago, I wrote about the decline of government into mere simulacrum thereof – a shutdown that isn’t a shutdown over a rollout that isn’t a rollout and a debt ceiling that isn’t a ceiling. But even in a world of Beltway-as-Broadway this story is deeply weird:

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense unit charged with recovering servicemembers’ remains abroad has been holding phony “arrival ceremonies” for seven years, with an honor guard carrying flag-draped coffins off of a cargo plane as though they held the remains returning that day from old battlefields.

The Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday that no honored dead were in fact arriving, and that the planes used in the ceremonies often couldn’t even fly, and were towed into position…

Many Americans will be familiar with the ceremonies:

A C-17 military transport aircraft was parked, its ramp down, outside a hangar at the base. After generals and dignitaries were introduced, a military chaplain said a prayer, the audience sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “Taps” was played. Then an honor guard carried flag-draped transfer cases, which look like coffins, down the ramp and placed them in the back of blue buses, which were driven away.

In fact, the remains have been in the lab for months. They’re loaded into transfer cases and, once the unflyable plane has been towed into position, the transfer cases are put on buses and driven off to be loaded onto the flight, ready for the “arrival ceremony”: 

The public was allowed in for the 9 a.m. ceremony: invited politicians, media, families of the missing and veterans… Then the show began, with tears and salutes as the remains were marched to the buses, then driven off to the lab to “begin the identification process.”

Pentagon spokesperson Amy Derrick-Frost attempts to weasel her way out:

‘Based on how media announcements and ceremony remarks are currently written, it is understandable how these “arrival” ceremonies might be misinterpreted, leading one to believe the ceremonies are “dignified transfer ceremonies,” which they are not.’

But the photographs accompanying the Daily Mail story give the game away: JPAC’s producers, choreographers and set designers created an “arrival ceremony” designed to dupe those in attendance into believing that these remains had just landed and were returning to US soil for the first time. That’s creepy. JPAC turns out to be just another largely useless, corrupt and dysfunctional federal agency, but, even so, given the number of people required to perpetrate this phoney sentimentalized homecoming theatre over seven years, the institutional acceptance of the fraud is remarkable.

Just think of how recent wars might have gone if the Pentagon were to apply the devious and covert skills it uses to hoodwink patriotic Americans to hoodwink the enemy instead.

Mark Steyn — Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist. That’s to say, his latest book, After America (2011), is a top-five bestseller in ...

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