MULVIHILL: Don’t make Gold Star families political

It is our responsibility to pay appropriate respect to fallen service members


Sgt. La David Johnson died while on a mission in Niger. 

Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense

On Oct. 16, President Donald Trump found himself embroiled in yet another scandal when he asserted that previous U.S. presidents did not personally call or contact the families of fallen service members during their terms. The statement was a response to allegations regarding Trump’s phone call with the wife of a U.S. soldier who died while on a mission in Niger. On a phone call with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, Trump reportedly said: “He knew what he signed up for … But when it happens, it hurts anyway.” By attempting to take the heat off his own comments, Trump drew executive response to Gold Star families into partisan politics. The sacrifices of Gold Star families should not be dragged into political conflicts, and all Americans should respect the families of fallen soldiers.

Fallen soldiers should never be a cause of political conflict. No matter partisan affiliation, the honor and sacrifice of military service can be agreed upon by all. Gold Star families make the largest sacrifice one could imagine for the safety of the country, and they should not be treated as a way to demonize one’s political opponents. By resurfacing Obama’s response, Trump made presidential phone calls and letters to these families an inherently politically-charged issue. Moreover, Trump attempted to place more fault on Obama by stating, “I mean you could ask Gen. Kelly [whose son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010], did he get a call from Obama?” Kelly’s son’s death and the deaths of other soldiers should not be used for political gain. Reactions to Gold Star families should not be politically charged and the families should instead be treated with respect and kindness. 

Furthermore, Trump’s reported comment that “he knew what he signed up for” disregards the complexities of war. Young men and women sign up to serve our country for a variety of reasons, and are aware of the danger of the position, but Trump’s comments make it seem like people sign up expecting to be killed in combat. While military service in the United States is voluntary, this implication to the widow of a service member that her husband knew what he was getting into when he committed his life to military service is insensitive and rude. Additionally, the statement, “when it happens, it hurts anyway,” implies that Trump looks at the death of service members as an inevitable consequence of their career path. People don’t sign up to protect their fellow countrymen and expect that they will inevitably die. Military service is a highly admirable profession in the United States and to define it by its most tragic outcome grossly simplifies the sacrifices service members make each day.

Trump’s comments should make all American citizens take a hard look at how they view the deaths of service members. Too often, the frequency of death during wartime leads to desensitization among the general public. Each tragic death of a U.S. service member deserves the renewed sympathy of the American public. It does not matter how many Americans die at war — each one of them fought to preserve the safety of citizens at home and deserve commendation and respect. Though it is easy to get drawn into political conflict nowadays, Gold Star families and service members should always be treated with respect, no matter your party.

Carly Mulvihill is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

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