Bryan Lentz

is a Democratic state representative from

Delaware County

In a letter to Lydia Bixby of Massachusetts, who was thought to have lost five sons in the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wrote, "I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming." Lincoln captured the inconsolable grief of a parent or spouse who has lost a loved one in war.

The unique and personal nature of that grief should guide the Defense Department's policy on photographs of the flag-draped coffins of the war dead returning at Dover Air Force Base. In the age of YouTube, paparazzi, text-messaging, and reality TV, every aspect of life is tending toward spectacle. This solemn, even sacred event should be an exception.

It is my strong opinion that such photos should continue to be prohibited. But neither my opinion nor that of any other politician should decide the issue. It should be decided by military families.

I agree with Military Families United that there should be a presumption of privacy that can be waived only at the request of the next of kin.

For those who say the First Amendment requires unfettered public access, I say - in this limited case - the First Amendment be damned. Free-speech protections don't encompass yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, and they shouldn't include intruding on mourning military families.

For those who argue that the restriction is an attempt to sanitize war and shield the public from its horrors, I have a one-word response: Google. Google "Iraq" or "Afghanistan," and you will find all the horror you want. Watch cable news or read the paper.

Never in the history of warfare has there been more instant data and detail on military casualties. For those who want to oppose the war - as I have since I served in Iraq in 2004 - there is no shortage of information.

Lincoln also wrote in his letter to Mrs. Bixby, "I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save." We owe today's military families the same gratitude. We should show it partly by giving them the power to keep their loved ones' return to America private.

Bryan Lentz served as an infantry officer in the 82d Airborne Division and as a reservist in Bosnia and Iraq.

He can be reached at blentz@pahouse.net.