"The comfort of routine" 

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he will now personally sign letters of condolence to families of troops killed in action, after acknowledging that signing machines had been used in the past.
— OfficialWire.com, Dec. 19, 2004

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Dec. 23, 2004

Dear Bereaved Relative or Current Occupant:

Allow me to personally express my deepest regret at the loss of your (choose one) son/daughter/significant other in the line of duty. Rest assured that the United States government is profoundly appreciative of the sacrifice your courageous loved one has made at this pivotal moment in our nation's history.

It was important to me that I contact you directly on this matter – with no intermediaries involved to filter my message – because I firmly believe that loyal soldiers like the one(s) you sent into battle are the backbone of our fine (circle one) army/navy/air force/Marines/hopelessly overextended reserves. It is their tireless diligence that will enable us to fulfill the ambitious but necessary goals we have set for ourselves in the treacherous war zone of (check as applicable) Iraq/Afghanistan/ Iran/Sudan/east Detroit.

My message is as simple as it is extemporaneous. As you adjust to your unexpected loss, I want to reassure you that your (pick one from column A) child/spouse/court-approved life partner did not perish in vain. Oh, my goodness, no. It's a frightening world we live in these days – one at constant risk of annihilation thanks to the insidious threat posed by (select any two from column B) Al Qaeda/Saddam Hussein/Kim Jong Il/Alec Baldwin. And giving one's life to vanquish such a foe is the utmost service we can ask of a (check deceased's given name and make educated guess) man/woman. That's why I've decided to not only sign this letter in my own hand – as Karl Rove's office strongly recommended – but to compose it from scratch, with only my conscience and an exceedingly finite set of conversational prompts to guide me. It's crucial that I reach out to you in this way. It's the least I can do. Especially when the Pentagon gets such a sweet deal on bulk mailings.

But enough about me. Back to you. I know that a yawning chasm of emptiness has opened in your life, and you may feel that you are facing it alone. You are not. President Bush and I are deeply sympathetic to your sad situation, and we will do everything in our power to ease your suffering. Just by opening this letter, you have entitled yourself to (circle one; WITE-OUT ALL OTHERS COMPLETELY) a formal military funeral/a lucrative armed-forces pension/deep discounts on Operation Iraqi Freedom commemoratives manufactured by the Franklin Mint.

But that's not all Washington is willing to do for you. For a limited time, we are also able to offer 24-month subscriptions to some of your favorite magazines – including Time, The National Review and Modern Outdoorsman – at a whopping 65 percent off the newsstand price. (Double-check for fuzzy math and correct if necessary.) Just phone 1-888-GET-MAGS, punch in code "241" and ask for the grieving-relations rate. Now, you won't be talking to me personally. As much as I'd love to hear from you, I have too many other duties to attend to at this moment in time. Nonetheless, you have my complete assurance that the sales representative you reach will have been trained according to the strictest defense-department specifications for dealing with the distraught survivors of our valiant war dead. (Note: For those who live in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or occupied Guam, this will be a toll call. If personal finances are tight, try phoning after 9 p.m. or on weekends.)

Sadly, this is not the first time I have had to take pen in hand and dispatch a personalized, one-of-a-kind condolence note to an anguished (underline one; if Southerner, two) parent/lover/second cousin like yourself. Nor do I expect it to be the last. But where others see only senseless tragedy, I see an opportunity for honest, open dialogue. I receive some impassioned responses to these letters, and many of them ask me what steps our government is taking to ensure that the disastrous (read today's Safire and highlight one) body-armor shortage/insufficient tank plating/crisis of vision that claimed your brave (see gender above; DO NOT DEVIATE!) young man/woman never has to happen again. I've thought a lot about this issue, and I've come up with a comprehensive plan to improve our operations in the field. It's a good one, and I think it's going to single-handedly right the course of America's foreign policy in the new century. I don't have the space to explain it here, but if you're interested in reading it, send me a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and I'll shoot you a copy as soon as I can spare a minute.

In closing, let me reiterate that the thoughts and prayers of everyone in the Bush Administration go with you as you attempt to weather this difficult time in your family's history. If there is anything further I can do for you, please don't hesitate to contact me. Day or night, I'll always be here for you. (IMPORTANT: Get notes from morning briefing before mailing. If Rummy has finally gotten the axe, correct relevant passages and forward to McClellan for approval.)


Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

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