Feud with Gold Star family sparks public focus on service, sacrifice
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s very public feud in the past week with the bereaved parents of an American soldier killed in Iraq has sparked heavy political backlash. But it has also had an unexpected consequence: bringing the military experience into public focus in a way that 14 years of U.S. military combat has not done.
“In a weird way it is an interesting catalyst to cause people to pause and reflect what this family has experienced,” said Kori Schake, a defense policy expert and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and one of the contributors to “Warriors and Citizens,” a recently published book on the military-civilian divide in the United States.
“They have personalized something that very often voters, if they think about it at all, they think about it in the abstract,” she said. “So they have given the personification of the patriotism that encourages children into military service and the sacrifices of family who undertake military service.”
Last week, Khizr Khan, the Muslim father of Army Capt. Humayun Khan — who was killed in Iraq in 2004 — spoke forcefully against Trump at the Democratic National Convention. Khan, with his wife, Ghazalan by his side, brandished a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution and charged that Trump had no understanding of what it means to sacrifice for his country.
Trump fired back, suggesting that Khan’s wife did not speak because of her religion and saying his sacrifice to his country was working hard and creating thousands of jobs. When the Khans gave TV interviews defending their religion and their patriotism, saying the candidate had no empathy or respect, Trump escalated his rhetoric, spurring many to say Trump crossed a sacred line.
The firestorm that erupted has civilians talking about military service and sacrifice. The term “Gold Star family” — the immediate family of a servicemember killed in action — entered into the lexicon of ordinary Americans.
The Khans are reportedly being stopped in the street by people wanting to shake their hands. Other supporters are visiting Humayun Khan's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, leaving notes and flowers to pay their respects.
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