Reading Paul Cooperâ€™s touching and thoughtful post has had me thinking all day.Â How should we honor our fallen?
Subbing for Keith Olbermann Thursday night, Lawrence Oâ€™Donnell took a whole segment to rhapsodize over President Obamaâ€™s â€œhistoricâ€ trip to Dover Air Force Base to greet the coffins of Afghanistan war dead, and Friday used it as a bludgeon saying it was something Bush and Cheney â€œnever had the decency to do.â€
But Vietnam Marine legend and our foremost chronicler of modern war, Bing West, ended his book on the battle for Fallujah, No True Glory, by charging us to honor our military not as victims, but as warriors.
“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.”
But liberals are decidedly uncomfortable with such things.Â They have been clamoring to get into Dover to â€œhonorâ€ the dead â€” or to exploit them to drive home the image of the cost of war in the public mind.Â They are good on issues like shortcomings at Walter Reed Hospital, but not at telling the stories of our Medal of Honor recipients.
Thinking on this topic had me searching for this passage from my review of Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground. No one has spent more time embedded with frontline troops in more parts of the world than Robert Kaplan. I summarized Kaplanâ€™s point thusly:
Despite news reports of low morale in the armed services because of overdeployment, with Army Special Forces and Marines,” he notes, “I had met only two kinds of troops: those who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who were jealous of those who were.”
The biggest complaint from Marines and Special Forces is not about being put in harm’s way – rather, Kaplan writes, they sneer about “the tyranny of the single casualty” that makes politicians so risk-averse that it actually increases danger in the long run. “Force protection is force projection,” is the soldiers’ refrain.
And while the media focus on casualties and goad President Bush to show he cares, the troops beg for the opposite, saying every fuss made by the media – and especially a politician – makes Americans more appealing targets and their job even tougher, Kaplan reports.
In other words, too much focus on preventing military deaths, and making our enemies think that producing more of them will weigh so heavily on our President that he may cut and run, each in its own way, makes casualties more likely.
But there is another part of Imperial Grunts that struck me on this Sunday as I looked back at this review:
By traveling the world and living with soldiers and Marines for months at a time, Kaplan learns that the blow-dried, Northeastern and impossibly cosmopolitan U.S. reporters understand little about the “heavily Southern, Evangelical Christian nationalists” who make up the “point of the spear” of America’s foreign policy.
Now where else have I heard a similar description lately? Â Oh, right, for months, Chris Matthews and his weekend panel members Andrew Sullivan and Kathleen Parker, uber-hater Keith Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow through her foaming at the mouth guest Frank Scheaffer, Â have been damning conservative Republicans as appealing only to Southern, white, Evangelical Christian nationalists who want to return to a go-it-alone (nationalistic) foreign policy.
Gee, I wonder why Democrats are always trying to hamper the collecting of military absentee ballots, or why mainstream media reporters have such a hard time talking about military objectives rather than body counts?
Now, before conservatives get too proud of ourselves as how much more we have in common with the heroes of our armed forces than those darn liberals; hereâ€™s a passage from Kaplanâ€™s Grunts that puts it in perspective:
“Running into the fire rather than seeking cover from it goes counter to every human instinct – trust me â€¦” Kaplan writes. “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 â€¦ 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.”
Perhaps it was that quality that President Obama was honoring at Dover the other night.Â I suppose he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Once.Â (Though Liz Cheney is exactly right that he didnâ€™t need the cameras and the press pool to accomplish that.) Â If he does it as a matter of course, then the Special Forces commanderâ€™s complaint to Robert Kaplan about making Americans higher value targets becomes a real issue.
In the meantime, let’s honor our fallen heroes as they return home. Â Not just as photo ops, but care for their families, and remember their sacrifice.
But lets also honor the guys who, in the words of George S. Patton, “make the other poor damn bastard die for his country” (or cause). Â Giving them the tools– and the rules (of engagement)– to win is the best honor we can pay to the fallen.
As O’Donnell, Olbermann, Maddow and Matthews beat the drum to get out of Afghanistan, they are calling on President Obama to salute the caskets, and then waste the sacrifice made by the people in them.