The mainstream media and the Left are interested in “supporting” only two kinds of “troops”—the dead and the wounded.
Successful warriors are of no political use to them. They aren’t helpful in stirring ant-war sentiment; and they don’t make for a compelling victim class.
Liberals prefer their blacks poor and dependent, their women bumping against glass ceilings, their blue collar workers scraping by and seeking government help, and their soldiers… well, it sounds too gruesome to say it out loud, but there are only two ways for soldiers to become another victim constituency.
Recently, President Barack Obama made a visit to Dover Air Force base and for the first time, the press corps got what they had been eagerly lobbying for 8 years to cover—the Commander-in-Chief saluting the coffins of killed American service personnel.
But why has the press been so insistent on access to Dover? To honor the dead? Unlikely. That argument didn’t get much traction on the Left until Obama’s trip, as supporters used it to hammer Bush and Cheney. We’ve heard, however, endless arguments about the First Amendment, the public’s right to know, and the government shielding the public from “the true cost of war.”
The last time the press was allowed to cover the arrival of coffins at Dover, it resulted in a blatant propaganda move worthy of Michael Moore. During the Gulf War, CNN showed President George H. W. Bush on a split screen joking around at press event in Washington, while flag-draped coffins were being unloaded at Dover.
In the days following my recent Newsreal blog post about considerations that a Commander-in-Chief must consider other than acting as chief mourner, I received tremendous feedback from veterans. To a man, all agreed with the previous ban on media at Dover. “The President could choose to go at any time—without the press,” one angry former Army pilot pointed out. “This was a phony photo-op. He doesn’t really give a damn.”
I think that may be too harsh. I think President Obama does feel the deaths of American military personnel—especially now that he is directly responsible for them. He would equally mourn the death of any federal worker—from an OSHA inspector at an unsafe worksite, to a census worker who knocks on an unexpectedly dangerous door. The fact that 18 were coming home at once, undoubtedly focused his attention.
In fact, the real danger to American troops may be that Barack Obama gives too much of a damn. In his classic work on the modern U.S. frontline military, Imperial Grunts, Robert Kaplan was told by Special Forces unit commanders that too much attention paid to casualties by a U.S. president would put their lives in more danger, by adding an extra benefit to the killing of an American soldier. The President’s schedule should not be commanded by any old fanatic who happens to have an AK-47.
But beyond propaganda value, there is another problem posed by a Commander-in-Chief whose primary concern is casualties. Kaplan found contempt among the professional military—who thought even the George W. Bush defense department fell into this trap—of “the tyranny of the single casualty.”
“Force projection is force protection,” goes the maxim among combat soldiers. A policy which takes the aggression out of these units makes them the hunted, rather than the hunters.
But the Left has another purpose for constant harping on casualties and feigned over-concern. It paralyses politicians, whose fear keeps the military from accomplishing the mission.
I remember my friend Harry, a retired Vietnam vet and Navy SEAL, commenting on the irony of the “we all support the troops, but not necessarily the mission” language of the Gulf War, and the new language of antiwar activism that was concerned with U.S. casualties.
“They used to be open about wanting to protect the enemy from us with their rules of engagement,” he said sardonically, “Now they pretend what they really want is to protect us [the U.S. Military] from the enemy.”
Commenting on the Left’s penchant to honor only wounded vets, Harry once told me, “They would honor me for what enemy rounds did to me, but never for what my rounds did to the enemy.”
Think about it. Every liberal you know can name Casey Sheehan and Pat Tillman—neither of whom would likely appreciate the way they are being used; and former Senator Max Cleland is treated as a martyr because Republicans dared to question his national security voting record. Cleland, they point out, lost 3 limbs in Vietnam. The fact that he lost them due to his own mishandling of a grenade should not keep us from honoring his service—but it doesn’t put make him Audie Murphy or Paul Smith, either.
If you want to really want to get a blank stare from a liberal, run one of these names past them: Paul Smith, Mark Mitchell, Brian Chontosh, Armand McCormick, Robert Kerman, Javier Comacho, Marco Martinez, Brent Morel, Willie Copeland, Jesse Grapes, Timothy Connors, Leigh Ann Hester, or Michael Murphy. (Of course, thanks to our media, most conservative won’t have heard of most of them, either, but at least the vast majority would like to.)
Victim or Villain?
But as Bing West, Marine legend, and our foremost chronicler of the Iraq War, points out in his book about Fallujah, No True Glory, the media really emphasizes two categories of veteran—victims and villains.
So, the other veteran every liberal can name is Lindie Englund. Talk about the war effort, and it will take a Leftist about one minute to bring up Abu Ghraib, and likely a stubborn belief in the false reports of a Marine massacre at Haditha (Newsweek devoted a cover to the charges, and a footnote to the exonerations). But just try to get a liberal to repeat heroic stories of the house to house fighting in Fallujah, or the assault on Baghdad Bridge.
The Fort Hood massacre has provided a window into the media’s view of veterans as both victims and villains as the killer, Major Nidal Malik Hasan is neatly filling both roles for them. We are treated to story after story about all the “stress” Hasan was under as the primary motive for his shooting spree, though he had never deployed anywhere, and had been expressing radical Islamist views for years.
If treating returning veterans was enough to give Hasan PTSD, (though workers at Walter Reed constantly testify that being with these vets is an uplifting experience) then we had better watch for a raft of massacres in police stations where psychologists deal with rape victims, child sexual abuse and the like on a daily basis.
The media immediately jumped to the phony excuse of PTSD in Dr. Hasan because their template is that every combat veteran is one step away from sniping from a Texas clock tower.
President Obama’s reaction to Fort Hood has been less than inspiring. You would think that if a visit to Dover was worth a trip on Air Force One, press pool in tow, that we would get more than an obligatory statement presented as an afterthought—and a “shout out” to a political buddy—at something called the Tribal Nations Conference.
(Lost in the shock over Obama’s casual and callow statement about Ft. Hood was the incredibly telling fact that he showed in his “shout out” to a Native American activist, that he (or his teleprompter) did not know the difference between the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a political award at the discretion of the President handed out for mainly ideological reasons, and the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Congressional Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest honor for valor in combat; and as likely to be awarded posthumously as not. A private who is awarded (not “wins”) the CMOH would be saluted by a room full of generals, such is the reverence in which it is held, and the rarity of its awarding.)
Obama’s follow-up statement the next day was even worse. Obama gave nearly equal time between sympathy for the families and the concern that the reports of Hasan’s anti-American Muslim radicalism would lead to a backlash against anti-American radical Muslims.
It is important to honor the honorable dead. Veterans Day was initially called Remembrance Day. But remembering them merely as victims robs them of the reason they are different than other residents of the cemetery.
Robert Kaplan has embedded with more military units than probably any other civilian reporter. Because of his proximity and sympathy on many issues, he began to think of himself as one of them—until the shooting started:
“Running into the fire rather than seeking cover from it goes counter to every human instinct – trust me … I had started deluding myself that they weren’t much different from me. They had soft spots, they got sick, they complained. But in one flash … I realized they were not like me; they were Marines. It is no exaggeration to say that Capt. Smith and Bravo literally rode to the sound of the guns.”
This Veterans Day, honor the dead. Find a way to be of service to the wounded, or to the family of a deployed soldier, sailor or airman– but not out of pity.
The only way to truly honor our military, past and present, is to honor them for what makes them different than us. We should celebrate that quality they possess that most of us do not—the reaction to run to the sound of the guns; and to enthusiastically wreak havoc on those who would do damage to the nation and the people they love.
As Bing West concludes in No True Glory:
“There would be no true glory for our soldiers in Iraq until they were not looked upon as victims but as aggressive warriors. Stories of their bravery deserved to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die.”
Until Barack Obama is as comfortable in honoring the achievements of our military as he is its sacrifices, he does them no honor at all.