By Sandy . . . This article, found in the Washington Post August 13, tells of the exhumation of the bodies of two U.S. military veterans because they had committed murder after their military service. The article then speaks of the laws that allow this to happen and makes clear that not only those who have killed but also those who have committed certain sexual crimes are forbidden burial in a national or state military cemetery.
Several things about this are disturbing.
One is the rationale behind the practice, that those others buried there are dishonored by the burial of those who have committed crimes. Is this true? It rather seems that one is dishonored by his own actions during his lifetime. Certainly those who commit murder and rape are dishonoring themselves, but how can their burial bring dishonor to others already dead and buried?
A like reasoning is that those who commit these crimes do not deserve the honor to themselves that is suggested by being buried in a military cemetery. But they are dead. They earned the right to a military burial by their military service. Then they committed crimes. Does a negative action totally negate a positive one?
Also disturbing is this tendency to continue punishment indefinitely. With this practice, punishment is extended after death. It is akin to the developing practice of meting out prison sentences that far exceed a normal lifespan, often by hundreds of years. What is the purpose of this? To make a point? If so, what is the point being made by refusing burial and even by forcing an exhumation of one already buried? Surely the only persons being punished, the only ones being forced to get the point, are the innocent family members and loved ones of the disgraced veterans.
What might be the logical consequences of this? Will those who have committed crimes one day be considered unfit to receive emergency or hospital care along side of those who have no criminal records? We already see widespread the practice of excluding those with a sexual crime record from being in certain care facilities such as shelters or nursing homes, living in certain places, worshiping in certain places, even walking their pets in certain places, but this has been, in theory, for the safety of society. That theory is by now proven so false that continuation of the exclusions must be seen for what it really is – a shunning of those whom decent society feels are unfit to share the same space and breath the same air.
As disturbing as all of these aspects are, the most worrisome of all is this line from the Washington Post story: “…exhumation authority didn’t exist until the 2013 law, which also was made to apply to people who committed murders and rapes but were not available for trial and not convicted.” Not convicted? Does this mean that veterans who are accused or suspected of committing murder or rape will be subject to exhumation if they are already buried and refusal of burial if they are still living even though they were not, for whatever reason, convicted of the crime?
It seems as though we have more to worry about than where a U.S. military veteran may or may not be buried.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.