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Chris Hayes apologizes for saying something intelligent

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my lai

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes sparked controversy and debate on Sunday when he said that he felt “uncomfortable” calling soldiers killed in action “heroes” because the term can be used to justify potentially unjust wars. He later apologized for the statement. (See apology below.)

Hayes spent a large portion of his Memorial Day-themed show on questions of war and of the people killed on all sides of military conflicts, from American soldiers to Afghan civilians.

After speaking with a former Marine whose job it was to notify families of the death of soldiers, he turned to his panel and, clearly wrestling with what to say, raised the issue of language:

I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable — uncomfortable — about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

Hayes’ fellow panelists expressed similar discomfort. Linguist and columnist John McWhorter said that he would “almost rather not say ‘hero” and called the term “manipulative,” even if it was unintentionally so.
Hayes then said that, on the flip side, it could be seen as “noble” to join the military. “This is voluntary,” he said, adding that, though a “liberal caricature” like himself would not understand “submitting so totally to what the electorate or people in power are going to decide about using your body,” he saw valor in it.

The Nation’s Liliana Segura then chimed in, saying that “hero” is often used to paint wars in a “righteous” way.
“These wars in Iraq and Afghanistan … aren’t righteous wars,” she said. “We can’t be so afraid of criticizing a policy.”

Hayes’ words caused a predictable furor with some. One Twitter user said that he was “uncomfortable with calling you an American.”

Others, though, supported Hayes. “Questioning-rather than bolstering-orthodoxies is inherently controversial,” blogger Glenn Greenwald tweeted. “That’s what makes Chris Hayes’ show so rare for TV-& so valuable.”

UPDATE: Chris Hayes issued a statement on Monday apologizing for his comments:

On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.

As many have rightly pointed out, it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation’s citizens as a whole. One of the points made during Sunday’s show was just how removed most Americans are from the wars we fight, how small a percentage of our population is asked to shoulder the entire burden and how easy it becomes to never read the names of those who are wounded and fight and die, to not ask questions about the direction of our strategy in Afghanistan, and to assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues.

But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don’t, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry

.

We live in a culture in which someone like Hayes cannot suggest, even the most diffident, nuanced, and self-deprecating way, that automatically labeling every American soldier who dies in war a “hero” might be an oversimplification of a difficult set of moral and political questions without thereby releasing such a storm of indignation that he is forced to immediately recant such a terrible heresy.

When it comes to war and peace nothing less than full-throated stupidity is acceptable in our public discourse, and any sign of ambivalence regarding the righteousness of the various causes for which around 1.34 million American soldiers have died is to be stamped out as an offense to the memory of the honored dead. (This view produces some logical problems in the context of America’s bloodiest war, but logic is never an impediment to pseudo-patriotic fervor).

Note too the perniciousness of the idea that Hayes’ civilian status is assumed even by himself — or at least his contrite persona –to disqualify him from having a valid opinion on such matters — a disqualification that obviously doesn’t apply to the armies of chicken hawk pundits who deploy their keyboards to celebrate whatever foreign adventure they and their masters have deemed worth the cost of someone else’s life.

One of the most horrible feature of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Update: This comment sums up what’s wrong with the backlash to Hayes’ unexceptionable observations perfectly:

While Memorial Day comes to us through an interesting mix of folk mourning practices, it is, like Thanksgiving, a holiday that encourages a kind of thinly cloaked national religion. I question whether making a public ritual around an intensely private act and set of feelings (mourning) is a good thing. One of the many violences of war is the loss of individual identity among the fighting and the silencing of debate; as a holiday, Memorial Day, which asks us to mourn heroic, reluctant, unlucky, ambivalent, peace-loving, honorable, and despicable people on the same day is that it throws our military dead into one mass grave and ask us all to drop flowers and shed a tear there. It is, as I see it, a holiday that perpetuates some of the worst lies of the state used to justify war. While I am not a pacifist, I am aggressively opposed to any state, legal, or cultural attempts to normalize or validate war. We should always look at acts of war with skepticism and doubt and unease. Bullshit terms like “our heroes” are naked propaganda terms designed to promote the idea that those who kill and die for the state deserve special reverence.

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  • Either they put someone in the chair who believes the insane things they want him to say, or they shut up the person in the chair who starts saying things that aren’t insane.

    Nice little set-up.

  • Alan G. Kaufman

    You, and he, confuse jus ad bellum with jus in bello. Soldiers — those who serve honorably are heroic in that they may not choose — are not permitted to choose — whether the cause is just or unjust. “Theirs is not to reason why, theirs is just to do and die.” All of those war dead, lying still and small and quiet beneath a cross, a crescent or a star, or an empty helmet and boots … died doing our bidding.

    • Holden Pattern

      Not my bidding. But then I guess when I cast my vote against the most bloodthirsty warmonger (vs. the less so) in every election where I had a choice, I earned collective responsibility.

      Let’s say that every soldier who dies is actually a hero — most of the military personnel I have known have no such grandiose opinion of themselves or their comrades — but let’s say it’s true. The problem is the deliberate manipulation of jus in bello to retcon jus ad bellum onto whatever the conflict is, and to continue to pickle the national conversation in a caustic brew of militarism.

      And then when the socially appropriately (or genuinely) thankful and concerned pipe up with the distinction you make, in order to gently slap down people like Hayes and Campos, you’re doing the devil’s work. (And not in the nice Moorcockian way).

    • cpinva

      and therein lies the difference between vietnam on back, and after vietnam. with an all volunteer military, soldiers do have a choice. they don’t have to serve in a war they don’t believe in (unless they happen to be in at the time), which is quite different from being drafted, and having no real say in the matter.

      i’m glad mr. hayes raised this issue, i wondered if i was the only one having this problem. the guys who were in when afghanistan & iraq first started oviously had no choice in the matter. those who re-upped or enlisted, in the army & marines, after both actions had started, did. presumptively, they believed in the legitimacy of both the actions in afghanistan & iraq, because they re-upped/enlisted, knowing they would face multiple tours. they did this in the face of evidence that both wars had false premises, and that our military was being abused for strictly political purposes. these i have some difficulty referring to as “heroes”, because of the very questionable nature of the conflicts they served in.

      using this logic, germans would be right in calling their fallen soldiers of wwI & wwII heroes. same for the japanese and north koreans. i suspect our “super patriots” would argue with this characterization, and they would be correct.

      • ironic irony

        Whoa whoa whoa! Why would anyone be upset about Germans or Japanese calling their soldiers in WWI or WWII heroes? Yes, both countries participated in acts of aggression, but if we are handing out passes to those Americans who were drafted, then we should hand out those same passes to drafted German and Japanese soldiers* (not everyone volunteered). They fought for those soldiers next to them, just like soldiers do today. And just because they fought for the wrong side doesn’t mean they were less skilled or less brave than Allied soldiers. That’s a Hollywood-bullshit stereotype that has no basis in history.

        I’m a vet, and was serving when the War on Terra started. I was always (and still am) uncomfortable with people thanking me for my service. I know that the Iraq War especially had nothing to do with protecting America, freedom, etc., etc. I will always be uncomfortable with the labels “hero,” “patriot,” etc. I will always wrestle internally with my participation in the farce that was Iraq.

        * Except members of the SS. They can go fuck themselves.

        • Lurker

          Here, I would like to make an even further note: many Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian members of SS were either drafted or volunteered out of honourable reasons. Their countries had been only recently occupied by the Soviet Union, which had engaged in genocidal terror campaigns against the local population. Fighting against such an enemy for the slight chance that your country might reach freedom by a quirk of fate was a morally justifiable choice, even if it meant serving in the SS.

          • There were no Lithuanian members of the SS. There were Latvian and Estonian Legions under the SS, but the Lithuanians along with the Poles and Greeks were one of the few occupied nations not to contribute any soldiers to the Waffen SS.

          • wengler

            No.

            Fuck the SS.

            • The US and UK war crimes commissions exonerated the Latvian and Estonian legions of all crimes in the 1940s. These particular units were deemed by the US and British governments to be different from other Waffen SS units not to mention the rest of the SS. So while membership in the SS was deemed to be a crime by virtue of membership in a criminal organization (Type D War Crimes) this did not apply to the Latvian and Estonian legions. Interestingly enough the Allies did not decree any Japanese organizations to be criminal organizations at the Tokyo Trials. There were no Japanese Type D War Criminals. Thus membership in the Japanese equivalent to the Gestapo, the Kempeitai in itself was not punishable. Although objectively the main difference between the Kempeitai and the Gestapo is that one of them victimized Europeans and one of them victimized Asians.

        • mpowell

          You have a point, but if even 10% of the people screaming at Chris Hayes for his comments were willing to call fallen Japanese or Germans from WWII heros, much less Vietcong or NVA forces, the context of this debate would be entirely different. The purpose of the use of the term hero is not to acknowledge the sacrifice of the individual soldier in this case, it is to provide justification for the cause for which he/she fought. And that’s why the term will never be used in the national media to refer to fallen enemies of the state. You don’t realize it, but they’ve already suckered you.

      • joe from Lowell

        presumptively, they believed in the legitimacy of both the actions in afghanistan & iraq, because they re-upped/enlisted, knowing they would face multiple tours.

        Hmmmm…let’s take this out for a spin.

        Presumptively, people who work at Wal Mart approve of their health care and labor policies, because they keep working there.

        Presumptively, people who work for the Congressional printing service approve of every law passed by Congress, because they keep working in the publishing department.

        How about this one: presumptively, women who work for Catholic-owned hospitals don’t approve of birth control coverage.

        I think this car is a lemon.

        • joe from Lowell

          Are teachers who come back year after year “presumptively” in favor of the standardized testing regime?

        • Margarita

          No doubt you are correct that there are some who go to war because they are depraved sociopaths who view the human-slaughter game with an attitude of, “Eh, it’s a living.”

          The presumption of genuine belief in the cause is a somewhat more charitable view as to any given individual, however, until proven otherwise.

          • joe from Lowell

            Excuse me, waitress? I ordered a mushroom omelette, but this is an embodiment of National Review’s caricature of liberal contempt for military personnel.

            • Margarita

              So you weren’t equating signing up to kill people in illegitimate wars to working for shitty benefits at Walmart? My bad.

              • joe from Lowell

                What are you babbling about?

                I didn’t write anything about you misunderstanding my comment, champ. I did, indeed, compare the assertion that military personnel “presumably support” particular policies of their employer with the claim that Wal Mart employees “presumably support” their employer’s policies.

                That wasn’t your bad. Your bad was, once again, being indistinguishable from National Review’s caricature of liberals with contempt for the military.

                I didn’t think I was being that obscure, but no matter how much I dumb down what I write, there will always be the Maragaritas of the world, I guess.

                • Margarita

                  So my presuming good faith on the part of military volunteers embodies “contempt for military personnel.” And your supposing their inability to distinguish illegitimate wars from stacking cans at Walmart is a “mushroom omelet.” How superior of you.

                • Furious Jorge

                  I do so love reading arguments about what goes on in the minds of military personnel between two people who have never served.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Unfortunately, one can also not simply assume that any particular dead soldier (American or otherwise) fought honorably.

    • blowback

      But under the rules of war they are permitted to decide. All soldiers have the obligation to refuse illegal orders. While it may be fatal in some armies to demand this right, after Nuremburg, that should not be the case in the US armed forces.

  • Rarely Posts

    Another real example of “political correctness” as it actually exists in American discourse.

    • Linnaeus

      Yep, and the irony in some of the response to Hayes is, well, astounding. He apparently hates America by exercising the freedoms that are supposed to be at the core of being an American.

  • Alan G. Kaufman

    “The problem is the deliberate manipulation of jus in bello to retcon jus ad bellum onto whatever the conflict is, and to continue to pickle the national conversation in a caustic brew of militarism.”

    I will accept that conflating just behavior in war with just cause for going to war can create the problem you describe – we need not glorify war; but the dead soldiers who died where their country sent them do not bear that burden. They died doing their duty. To recognize the virtue in that sacrifice is no wrong; to fail to do so, however, is to abdicate responsibility for the setting of that duty.

    It is also well to recall the observation of one old soldier, who, observing Union soldiers charging Confederate works at Fredericksburg, commented:

    “It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it.”

    • “It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it.”

      One of many things he was wrong about.

      • wjts

        Indeed, that quote has to be in the running for the dumbest thing anyone has ever said. If war were not terrible, but instead some sort of joyous parade of puppies, sunshine, and lemonade, there would be no problem in growing too fond of it.

        • Asteele

          What’s this “become” you speak of.

        • Alan G. Kaufman

          Ahh… but those who have never seen it glorify it…. recall all those lovely parades of soon to be dead boys in the days just before WWI…or the American Civil War

          • rea

            “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell,” said Sherman, who knew what he was talking about.

      • rea

        I think you have Lee’s meaning wrong–he was expressing shock at the slaughter of enemy troops by his army, not pleasure.

    • Holden Pattern

      I will accept that conflating just behavior in war with just cause for going to war can is usually deliberately intended as a form of propaganda to create the problem you describe

      FTFY

    • Colin Day

      For those who don’t follow American history, it was Robert E. Lee.

      wikiquote

    • Bill Murray

      I like Siegfried Sassoon better

      ‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the mother said,
      And folded up the letter that she’d read.
      ‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke
      In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
      She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud
      Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.

      Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
      He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies
      That she would nourish all her days, no doubt
      For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
      Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
      Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.

      He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,
      Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
      Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried
      To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
      Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
      Except that lonely woman with white hair.

      • Alan G. Kaufman

        Then let us not forget Kipling’s “Tommy”

        More Sharing ServicesShare | Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on email Share on print Share on reddit Share on stumbleupon Share on favorites Share on gmail Share on blogger Share on tumblr
        Rudyard Kipling
        Rudyard Kipling
        Tommy

        I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
        The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
        The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
        I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
        O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
        But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
        The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
        O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

        I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
        They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
        They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
        But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
        For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
        But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
        The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
        O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

        Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
        Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
        An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
        Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
        Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
        But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
        The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
        O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

        We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
        But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
        An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
        Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
        While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
        But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
        There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
        O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

        You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
        We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
        Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
        The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
        For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
        But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
        An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
        An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

        • Hogan

          The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
          Randall Jarrell

          From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
          And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
          Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
          I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
          When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

        • Halloween Jack

          More Sharing ServicesShare | Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on email Share on print Share on reddit Share on stumbleupon Share on favorites Share on gmail Share on blogger Share on tumblr
          Rudyard Kipling
          Rudyard Kipling
          Tommy

          I don’t remember that verse. It’s quite evocative.

          • Alan G. Kaufman

            It’s the 21st century new media updated rebooted version….

            • joe from Lowell

              The share icons, row upon row…

  • This toad from NewsBusters is certainly opposed to anything intelligent being said, anywhere:

    Even so, what does it say about the liberal chattering class, which Hayes epitomizes, that it chokes on calling America’s fallen what they rightly and surely are: heroes? Watch the hesitant Hayes in what almost seems a parody of the conflicted intellectual.

    I’m surprised he managed to avoid the George Wallace “pointy-headed intellectual” quote.

  • jon

    Memorial Day is to honor those who have risked and served under arms for the country. It is not a referendum about the probity of a given conflict, though that is often inferred.

    Soldiers aren’t given a vote about whether to go to war or not. Though there may be some level of approval in those that volunteer in the knowledge that a particular war will happen. Soldiers also have little agency in where they are posted, particularly in the lower ranks and infantry.

    Everyone who serves in the military makes some sacrifices, relative to civilian life. Some make greater and harder sacrifices than others, and some are miraculously spared. Memorial Day is to honor the breadth and extent of those sacrifices, a means to see the military as a physical manifestation of the will of the entire country.

    But it would be incorrect to call every soldier who has died or suffered in a war a hero. Many cowards die, and many injuries happen that were random accidents. Military heroism requires bravery during conflict, and that honor deserves to be reserved for those who have earned it.

    The best way were can honor the commitment, bravery and sacrifice of those who have served is to not engage in war unnecessarily, to not squander the lives and youth of soldiers, and to treat veterans with gratitude and respect, helping them to return to civilian life whole.

    • cpinva

      they have, since the draft was ended after vietnam:

      Soldiers aren’t given a vote about whether to go to war or not. Though there may be some level of approval in those that volunteer in the knowledge that a particular war will happen. Soldiers also have little agency in where they are posted, particularly in the lower ranks and infantry.

      so your argument is wrong on its face. in fact, the reason the bush administration never pushed for the draft to be reinstated is because he knew the republican party would be toast if he did.

    • Hogan

      Memorial Day is to honor those who have risked and served under arms for the country.

      You’re thinking of Veterans’ Day.

      • Malaclypse

        Armistice Day, dammit.

        • Hogan

          By public decree Veterans’ Day happens to occupy the same time slot, despite my continuing refusal to recognize it.

    • Margarita

      there may be some level of approval in those that volunteer in the knowledge that a particular war will happen.

      “May” be? “Some”? Cripes.

    • wengler

      You’re wrong about the honoring the living veterans, but from what I can see if Memorial Day is mentioned it is treated like some sort of Veterans’ Day II.

  • bobbyp

    When it comes to war and peace nothing less than full-throated stupidity is acceptable in our public discourse…

    So very, very, very true. What is to be done?

    • c u n d gulag

      Start a “whisper campaign?”

      Bad joke, I know…

      It seems to me that every nation, or people, have people with this Conservative, pro-military mindset.
      Go back, and you’ll find it in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Probably the Chinese and Egyptian, too – but I’m less familiar with their writings.

      And the most bellicose, are those who never fought, or experienced, war. Like our MSM chattering class, and the internet Keyboard Kommando’s.

      We’re forced to listen to these idiots, when who we’d like to hear from is someone like Colonel David Hackworth, who was one of America’s most decorated soldiers, and served with honor and distinction in both Korea and Vietnam.
      He became a vocal critic of the latter Police Action.
      He wrote a book called, “About Face,” in which he criticized the Vietnam War. It’s a great read.
      Sadly, he’s dead.
      And, instead of listening to him, and others like him, we get chicken-hawk Conservatives, criticizing Chris Hates.

      I happen to agree with what Hayes said originally.
      We overuse the word “hero.”

      Not that there aren’t any in wars, like he says – “there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, and things like that.”

      But not everyone serving in the military, with or without a war, is a hero – sorry.

      In an all-volunteer military, “service to your country” is often the result of bad economic circumstances, and few, if any, other job opportunities; and “doing your duty,” is doing the job they signed on for.
      And they had to know that shooting, wounding, and killing, and being shot, wounded, or killed, were all possibilities – it was there in the fine print, if it wasn’t stated to them openly.

      Someone who had no desire to ‘serve,’ and who was drafted against their will into the military, has a much greater claim, in my book anyway, of being a “hero,” than a person who volunteered (but I quibble).
      And sure, many of the volunteer’s were lied to, and told they’d never see action – but after all, they knew they were joining the US military, and not The Peace Corp, so the possibility was there.
      Check the fine print.

      I think we overuse the word “hero,” hoping more people will want to be ‘heroes’ in this, our “Exceptional” nation, when we again go to war to show how truly exceptional we are as THE most “Exceptionalist” of all ‘exceptional” nations (my point being that EVERY nation, and EVERY people, think they’re exceptional).

      But then again, we are now a Fascist nation, and in a Fascist nation, everyone who serves the Fascist state, is a “hero of the people.”
      “Hero,” sounds so much better than ‘fodder,’ to the rest of the people in the Fatherland.

      In the meantime, this Memorial Day, I’ll honor the memories not only of those in the military who were killed in war, but of the civilians killed, too.
      I suspect that there’s a lot more ‘heroism’ involved in trying to survive, than in trying to kill.

      And I’m sure I’ll be blasted for writing this.
      And maybe rightly so.
      But that’s my opinion.
      The opinion of someone who’s family was lucky enough to survive the killing fields of Europe during WWII, and whose father and uncles served in the US Army.

  • All Beef Patty

    Interesting that no one has mentioned Mr. Hayes’ deep connection to The Nation, a liberal rag or that his wife works for Barack Obama.

    Chris and those who wish to shit on soldiers are always the ones that have never volunteered to defend this nation as those soldiers have.

    • owlbear1

      Yes it is much more noble to praise their heroism as you send them off die for no other reason than your self-esteem.

    • Enter the keyboard commandos.

    • DocAmazing

      Patty and those who get a hard-on for war are always the ones that have never worked at the Veterans’ Administration or treated wounded and damaged veterans.

    • cpinva

      have you?

      Chris and those who wish to shit on soldiers are always the ones that have never volunteered to defend this nation as those soldiers have.

      or are you a member of the 101st keyboard brigade, hunkered down in your mom’s basement, urging other people’s fathers, sons, mothers, daughters off to war?

      • All Beef Patty

        Vietnam, baby…

        And YOU??

        • timb

          bullshit

        • DocAmazing

          Easy to check; where and when?

    • Furious Jorge

      Interesting that no one has mentioned Mr. Hayes’ deep connection to The Nation, a liberal rag or that his wife works for Barack Obama.

      Yes, if by “interesting” you mean “completely appropriate” because we are discussing what Hayes said and the reaction of the right wing propaganda machine to his words, and not engaging in bog-standard right-wing character assassination and smear tactics.

    • wengler

      Blah blah blah ‘shit on soldiers’ blah blah blah ‘defend this nation’ blah blah blah.

      Critical thinking isn’t your strong point methinks.

  • Matt McKeon

    Memorial Day is a rememberance of those who died in our wars, not a debate about the wisdom of going to war in general, or any war in particular.

    The wisdom of any particular military intervention shouldn’t be raised on Memorial Day, a pointless exercise in contrarianism, but usefully, when the debate on that particular military intervention is occuring. And if that debate isn’t happening because the president basically says, fuck it, I’m doing it because I alone think its a good idea(which has been happening lately), then it won’t be fixed by showing a photo of the My Lai massacre on Memorial Day. It would be fixed by making going to war by the US a lot harder to do, not a unilaterial decision by a single person.

    • Part of the reason unnecessary and illegal wars are conducted is because of the illusion that the military is a noble institution. Part of the construction of that illusion is that every soldier who dies is a hero, and that every soldier deserves respect and thanks for what they do.

      One of the most effective ways that those perceptions are enforced are on the multiple national holidays we have for honoring military service, where workplaces shut down and every media outlet, politician and national figure says something along the lines of “every soldier is a hero, every soldier is deserving of respect and thanks.”

      So. Pointing out the falsity of those statements can serve to counter the illusion that is being constructed, and doing so on a day when everyone’s attention is focused on that stuff is one of the most appropriate times to do it.

      (None of this should be construed as saying that we shouldn’t as a society do everything we can to help ease the transition from returning overseas to civilian life, or that we shouldn’t have empathy for the human pain that being in the military often causes for soldiers and there families, because we should. But that’s completely different from saying all soldiers are heroes, or that they should be valorized.)

    • Charlie

      What utter horseshit and total reification of Memorial Day. While Memorial Day comes to us through an interesting mix of folk mourning practices, it is, like Thanksgiving, a holiday that encourages a kind of thinly cloaked national religion. I question whether making a public ritual around an intensely private act and set of feelings (mourning) is a good thing. One of the many violences of war is the loss of individual identity among the fighting and the silencing of debate; as a holiday, Memorial Day, which asks us to mourn heroic, reluctant, unlucky, ambivalent, peace-loving, honorable, and despicable people on the same day is that it throws our military dead into one mass grave and ask us all to drop flowers and shed a tear there. It is, as I see it, a holiday that perpetuates some of the worst lies of the state used to justify war. While I am not a pacifist, I am aggressively opposed to any state, legal, or cultural attempts to normalize or validate war. We should always look at acts of war with skepticism and doubt and unease. Bullshit terms like “our heroes” are naked propaganda terms designed to promote the idea that those who kill and die for the state deserve special reverence.

      • Charlie

        Calling out McKeon on horseshit, not “Both Sides.”

        • Thanks for the clarification, although it’s pretty easy to see we’re saying basically the same thing. And at the same time too!

  • DrDick

    Memorial day was not initially established to “recognize fallen heroes,” but to remember to horrors that are war and those who paid the highest cost, so that we do not forget that it is not glorious, but only a tempest of blood, and death and terror.

  • TT

    A huge problem is that rather than respect and understand the military, our culture has chosen to worship it. You see this in political debates, in movies and TV shows, in sports (the Indy 500 yesterday featured Taps and a 21-gun salute, which I found deeply inappropriate–disgusting even). The result is a people vicariously living through men and women that they are, at bottom, both intimidated and discomfited by. Perhaps ending the AVF and the fallout from Viet Nam had something to with this introduction of mandatory awe into our view of the military. (Of course, the VFW and AL and other right-wing organizations have never had to answer for their shameful treatment of Viet Nam veterans, only the DFHs and Democrats.) But overall I see this as a major threat to democratic health over the long term.

    • Colin Day

      Ending the AVF? Don’t you mean beginning it? I assume it means All-Volunteer Force.

      • TT

        Yes, my mistake. I meant to say ending the draft.

    • Lurker

      I agree. The 21-gun-salute is inappropriate, unless a head of state is present. There is honour in receiving the honours proper to one’s station. For a rank-and-file, I think, 3 guns (rifles) are the standard funeral salute, 6 if there is extraordinary valour. Giving a 21-gun-salute is inappropriate and even belittling. It is like playing “Hail to the Chief” for the Vice President. (In Cheney’s case, it might have been appropriate, but snarky, still.)

    • Heron

      Indirectly, yes. After Vietnam, the Pentagon started spending serious amounts of money on domestic propaganda, and a facility for manipulating the press became one of the important skills every general needed. The raising of the military to an object of veneration is a direct result of this, and the post-Vietnam Republican strategy of attacking liberals as weak, unreliable, and unpatriotic, which necessitated them always having one more complimentary thing to say about war and the military than the Democrats did.

      • rea

        After Vietnam . . . a facility for manipulating the press became one of the important skills every general needed

        Generals have been manipulating the press since the Battle of Kadesh. It’s nothing new.

  • I’m not sure why this statement needed to be made during memorial weekend besides being provocative. This week it’s despised, next week the sentiments would be ignored by anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. Either way, nothing has been changed.

  • Ralph Nakko

    I’m not sure why this statement needed to be made during memorial weekend besides being provocative.

    It didn’t. It was a choice Mr. Campos made to be counter patriot.

    • DrDick

      You and all your sock puppets would not know true patriotism if it kicked you in the nuts and shoved your face in the rancid shit you spew. You revel in death and hate, which is the antithesis of patriotism.

      • Anonymous

        I’m surprised you can spell. Don’t hurt yourself there.

      • Ralph Nakko

        DrDick,

        Which wars do you think were honorable?

        • DrDick

          How about none? Some were necessary (though none in my lifetime and I am 60), but war is not an honorable enterprise as it destroys all it touches.

          • Malaclypse

            EotAW had an excellent discussion of this some years back, but my google-fu is weak, and i cannot find it.

          • Ralph Nakko

            It seems you leave no room for defense which is an inherently immoral position.

            • Malaclypse

              Poor Jennie, who needed defending from Marxist thugs in Grenada.

              • Hogan

                Those Cuban construction workers were VERY heavily armed. VERY.

            • DrDick

              What part of “necessary” don’t you understand? Oh, that’s right, you are incapable of understanding the meaning of any words aren’t you, JenBob?

            • wengler

              The conservative definition of ‘defense’ is to burst into somebody else’s home, kill their dog, rape their wife and then torture them to death while saying afterward it was important because they were building a ‘doom machine’.

  • Sly

    (This view produces some logical problems in the context of America’s bloodiest war, but logic is never an impediment to pseudo-patriotic fervor).

    There is a logical solution, I think. Considering that the casualty rate was split roughly 60-40 between the Union and Confederacy, maybe we should simply agree to designate all the Civil War dead as 60% heroic rather than actually dirty ourselves and our patriotic fervor with trifling things like the historical record. We can call it something catchy, like the Three Fifths Compromise.

  • jeer9

    Personal story:

    I had a senior General student in 2003 who wanted to serve in the military after graduation on his way to becoming a police officer. He was fairly well-behaved for a General kid, reasonably polite, and filled with patriotic fervor after the war began. However, one of the last things I heard him say to a friend was how much he was going to enjoy being in Iraq and “shooting some ragheads.” About a year later, we learned that he’d been killed by an IED. He was glorified at school and pictures of him in full body armor valiantly patrolling the streets of Tikrit were blazoned across the school newspaper. This past year one of our school’s academic teams got a chance to compete in Washington, DC, and they visited his grave at Arlington where they posed for a photo as they placed a flowery wreath on his tombstone.

    Anything that cuts through the bullshit about war (especially elective or pre-emptive war) is welcome, and if it means qualifying the idea of hero on Memorial Day then so be it. There is never a “good” time to express that view in this country, and I’m saddened that Hayes felt the need (or was coerced) to apologize.

    • Malaclypse

      For once, I think you are completely correct.

  • Murc

    And in an effort to say something productive…

    Soldiers are, you know, people. Some of them are heroes. Some of them are just looking to get by. And some of them are true scumbags. This makes them basically the same as, you know, all people, everywhere.

    Not sure why this is so controversial.

    • Holden Pattern

      Because it fucks with the national folk religion, in which jingoism, militarism and Republican Jesus are all wrapped into one giant ball of shut the fuck up, you fucking hippie commie [and the newest addition] islamofascist.

    • bradp

      Soldiers are, you know, people. Some of them are heroes. Some of them are just looking to get by. And some of them are true scumbags. This makes them basically the same as, you know, all people, everywhere.

      Except most people haven’t accepted the obligation to take a bullet in the desert when the public will deems it necessary for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent.

      • John Protevi

        The public will? When did you turn into Rousseau? I guess methodological individualism is optional for you and you dip into your metaphysical bag of tricks when it suits your ideological purposes.

        Or am I misreading the “for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent.”

        • bradp

          Did I not describe why we honor fallen soldiers accurately?

          If you wanna take the next step and discuss why our approximated public will seems directionless and detached from public desire, we can discuss that. My lack of formal training in the discipline might bake it a waste, however.

          • Did I not describe why we honor fallen soldiers accurately?

            It’s the “we” that’s problematic, Brad, as displayed on this very thread.You’re creating a “we” that over-rides a lot of difference of opinion as to Memorial Day, “honor,” “fallen” and so on. “Speak for yourself” is the libertarian motto, right?

            • bradp

              “Speak for yourself” is the libertarian motto, right?

              Fair enough.

      • Malaclypse

        If we had fewer people willing to take a bullet in the desert of a country that never attacked us, would that increase or decrease our safety?

        • bradp

          I’m sure I’m being obtuse and missing the immediate point, but that is an interesting question that I don’t know the answer to.

          • Malaclypse

            My point was that fewer “heroes” might leave us all safer.

            • bradp

              That’s most likely true. But that particular “hero” personality type (prone to deference towards authoritarian institutions) did not just appear when Bush Jr told everyone they were for us or against us.

              Looking at the interplay of different types of people within society and how they effect social cohesion is very interesting to me. The conservative and the liberal can be as complementary as they are opposed.

      • SeanH

        Damn that public will, lying about WMDs! Why is the public will such a dick?

        • bradp

          Why is the public will such a dick?

          Lots of reasons…

          • DrDick

            Mostly Republican and conservative reasons.

            • bradp

              Unfortunately for us, even though it is easy to identify republicans with evil, getting rid of republicans won’t get rid of the evil.

      • Malaclypse

        Brad, yesterday:

        Except most people haven’t accepted the obligation to take a bullet in the desert when the public will deems it necessary for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent.

        Brad, in the Armistice Day thread of 2011:

        I would love to agree with this, but is there any war that would bring anything other than “Brave American soldiers fighting evil” thoughts to mind?

        • bradp

          If you follow that earlier thread, I state that I would be fond of a “War Sucks” day, which seems as much the point of memorial day as anything.

          • Malaclypse

            Yes, and now it is you calling soldiers heroes, without getting the conflict between the two positions.

      • wengler

        I don’t think that’s the whole reason for the discomfort though. Our military isn’t made of people catching bullets. It’s made to kill. Quickly and completely without mercy. It massacres on accident and on purpose.

        The praising of all war dead as heroes is ridiculous. If you need to think about them collectively, think about all the waste.

      • Murc

        Except most people haven’t accepted the obligation to take a bullet in the desert when the public will deems it necessary for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent.

        This is true, but I’m not sure how its relevant to my actual comment.

        William Calley would have happily taken a bullet for his country. Doesn’t make him any less of a scumbag. Patriotism and the willingness to die for a cause are traits that have no real bearing on ones moral uprightness.

      • Gepap

        They get paid for it. People have been choosing to make a living from facing the posibility of death for a long time. It does not make them heroes, or actually even special.

  • mch

    This “hero” rhetoric for everyone who fights, and especially for anyone who dies, in some individually challenging situation on behalf of the larger community, dates to 9/11, as far as I can tell. Shit, is our historical memory so short? Hayes and his guests make a valid point — and then they have to apologize (well, Hayes does)? (I guess they should have saved this topic for another day than Memorial Day, if they’d calculated more prudently. But when else would the topic come up?)

    “Hero,”, like “warrior,” is recent usage. I have no doubt what my uncle, a Marine who fought and was wounded at Peleliu in WWII, would have thought of all of this. He was “no hero.” He did extraordinary things, but even he was no hero. Just a frightened and well-trained man who did his best (and saw the worst that we humans are capable of). This heroism talk is insidious.

    • bradp

      Just a frightened and well-trained man who did his best (and saw the worst that we humans are capable of). This heroism talk is insidious.

      I think doing one’s best in extraordinary situations, especially in pursuit of the public welfare when it is hazardous to one’s own welfare, is heroic.

      • Heron

        I had two uncles in Vietnam, a great-uncle who fought in Europe under Patton and another who fought as a marine in the Pacific. If you told any four of those men they were a hero they’d huff in your face, shake their head, and go talk to someone else. Men aren’t myths, and most don’t want to be treated as if they were.

        • DrDick

          My father, who served on Guam, Saipan, and Iwo Jima in WW II was the same way. He never saw himself as a hero, though he was wounded on Iwo Jima, just a survivor. That also applies to all my friends who were in Vietnam, including several bronze star recipients. There is nothing glorius in war.

          • bradp

            There is nothing glorius in war.

            But there is always plenty worth remembering.

            • DrDick

              Only the horror and the exorbitant costs in people and treasure.

            • wengler

              Reminds me of a guy on a show I watched. He was a US soldier and he figured out he was a cannibal after killing and eating two Vietnamese women. These are the sort of things that happen in war.

              Definitely worth remembering.

          • jeer9

            My father was a Marine who was seriously wounded by grenade shrapnel on Saipan and spent six months in the hospital recovering. He had a little box of war memorabilia tucked away inside his bedroom closet. Inside it was a Japanese flag, a Japanese knife, some Japanese coins, and some gold teeth.

            • DrDick

              My father may have known him. He was a SeaBee who spent much of the war seconded to the 5th Marines. He was a demolition man and one of those who sealed the caves on Saipan, which gave him nightmares for the rest of his life.

              • bradp

                He was a demolition man and one of those who sealed the caves on Saipan, which gave him nightmares for the rest of his life.

                Do you believe such a sacrifice is worth memorializing, and if so, how?

                • Holden Pattern

                  It should be a day of grief for the waste and horror of war and the deaths of the men and women who fought (and those who were slaughtered who were not combatants), not a day of valorization for the IDEA of militarism and jingoism.

                  If your tastes run more to the religious, how about a day of meditation of whether we are on God’s side, instead of jingoistic cheers that He is on ours?

                • DrDick

                  What Holden said. My father would far rather have forgotten all of it, but was haunted by the memories for the rest of his life. Memorial Day was established a a memorial to the horrors and terrible costs of war, not to glorify it. It was at its inception profoundly anti-war and should remain so.

      • Furious Jorge

        What aspect of the public welfare was served by the war in Iraq?

        • bradp

          That is irrelevant, as it is not the soldier’s duty, in reality or in theory, to determine best and/or proper public policy.

          • Malaclypse

            So enlisting in an imperial army is not fraught with moral implications?

            • bradp

              I think there are. Can I get your opinion on what those are, though?

              • Malaclypse

                “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever; and this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.” Declaration of Friends to Charles II, 1660

          • Furious Jorge

            How the hell is that question irrelevant when it’s responding to this:

            I think doing one’s best in extraordinary situations, especially in pursuit of the public welfare when it is hazardous to one’s own welfare, is heroic.

            So you want to use the “public welfare” card to bolster your argument, and then say it’s irrelevant when called on to defend it.

            Well played.

  • melior

    But haven’t drones made bravery obsolete?

    • c u n d gulag

      The right will want to honor “our brave, HEROIC, drones.”

      We’ll soon have a ‘Tomb for the Unknown Drones.’

      And the Keyboard Kommando’s can lay their carefully-crafted wreaths, lovingly made out of twisted Cheeto’s bags, held together with Mountain Dew cans, that they made in their Mom’s basement’s.

  • John Protevi

    Somebody should post this, so it might as well be me. On the subject of civic religion and the ways in which war dead are used in the service thereof a certain Mr Owen has something to say.

    Dulce Et Decorum Est

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

    GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
    Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

    In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    • jeer9

      Love that poem, John.

  • Heron

    I may be misremembering, but wasn’t Memorial Day lobbied for as an anti-war holiday? That makes this whole situation doubly ironic; not only was Hayes forced to apologize for asserting the humanity of soldiers, he was also reprimanded for making an anti-war point on a day that should above all be about the horrible costs of war, but has instead become a superficial celebration of shallow, manipulative “my team”-ism.

    • Steve LaBonne

      EVERY war memorial- whether a structure or a day of commemoration- should be an ANTI-war memorial. Its purpose should be to prompt all of us to do a hell of a lot of lot of soul-searching about the causes for which we have sent so many kids off to die. But since we now live in the most disgustingly militaristic country since Wilhelmine Germany (something that would shock our ancestors, who barely tolerated the existence of a standing army), anybody who says that in public will be mobbed by herds of armchair warriors, which is rather like being bitten to death by sheep.

  • Ralph Nakko

    Which wars do Paul Campos believe were honorable and necessary?

    I’d really like to know.

    • Furious Jorge

      “Honorable” and “necessary” are not synonyms. Are you looking for a list of wars that meet both criteria, or just one or the other?

    • Malaclypse

      I believe that the War on Christmas is both honorable and necessary.

      • Ralph Nakko

        Why?

        • Malaclypse

          Why do you ignore the plight of Santa’s oppressed elves, Jennie? At long last, why?

      • DrDick

        I vote for the War on Rightwing Stupidity.

  • Lurker

    An interesting comparison can be made to the discussion in Finland. Here, it is an axiom that the war dead are referred to as “the heroic dead”, which is usual good style. However, this only refers to those who have died in the defence of the country. Using the term “heroic dead” for the soldiers who have died as a result of foreign action in “peace-keeping” deployments (e.g. ISAF), is controversial.

    The reason for this is both historical and deeply embedded in the Finnish view of war. First, the historical reason is that the peace-keeping missions were, until 1995, pure peace-keeping. Any KIA were unfortunate and unplanned incidents, and mostly considered to be workplace accidents than inevitable results of military action. This mentality remains, still. The FDF uses the terms “the fallen” and “the heroic death” of its KIA in Afganistan, but this is not used by the population or by the media.

    Second, the foreign military deployments are seen as actions that are useful as foreign policy actions. No one is compelled to deploy, not even career military. They are not fully seen as the defence of the fatherland but as military adventures. The same goes for the servicemen deploying.

    Thus, as a Finnish reservist, I know that if I, God forbid, am activated and die defending my home soil as a result of enemy fire, I will be one of the “heroic dead”. However, if volunteer for deployment and die in Afganistan, I will be just “dead”.

  • Kal

    How many of the people who insist that being willing to risk your life makes you a hero, however stupid and criminal the war you’re fighting, apply that logic to members of the Iraqi resistance or the Taliban? (Approximately zero?) Note that the mortality rate for those people has to be a lot higher than for US troops.

    But in the US even liberals usually don’t count dead “bad guys” as a cost of war, let alone as heroes. If you’re reading this, how many times have you heard the cost of Iraq listed as “X dead US soldiers, Y Iraqis, and Z billion dollars”, or something like that, where “Y Iraqis” is the ~100,000 number derived from Iraq Body Count, which explicitly excludes combatants?

    • Lurker

      I, for one, am ready to assume that anyone who is fighting for his country is honourable (unless shown to have committed war crimes personally), and in many cases, shows heroism.

      Thus, I grant that the Taliban (against whom the troops of my country are presently fighting) are honourable enemies, who are mostly motivated by the best of motives, the desire to defend their country, religion and way of life. Of course, they are terribly misguided in serving with the Taliban instead of the Afghan National Army but this does not make them dishonourable.

      Similarly, it is quite clear that the Red Army that fought Finland in WWII consisted mostly of patriotic people making extreme sacrifices for their country, many of them true heroes.

      Acknowledging the heroism and basic human dignity of the enemy does not lessen the rightfulness of the national cause. Instead, it shows the true gravity of the decision to go to war, the difficulty of achieving any success and the need to exert the total effort of the nation against a formidable enemy.

      • Similarly, it is quite clear that the Red Army that fought Finland in WWII consisted mostly of patriotic people making extreme sacrifices for their country, many of them true heroes.

        Really? Against a nation they had oppressed and traded with Sweden for centuries? On that nation’s home soil? Somehow, Finns were a threat to the massive Soviet Union, even after not putting up a fight over Karelia and other annexations by the SU?

        Really? “Bullies” is more like it.

        • Lurker

          Stalin, and his ilk, were completely immoral bunch of rapists and murderers. However, the rank and file of the Red Army fought very well in the Winter War, although their officers were ill-trained and their tactical doctrines were extremely poor. For example, in the Battle of Raate-Road, the individual Russian soldiers fought valiantly and resisted until death even though they knew that they were doomed. That is very honourable, in many cases also heroic.

          Thinking that the enemy is a bunch of immoral cowards decreases the honour of your own side. In addition, if you are trained to believe that the enemy is, at individual level, morally and physically inferior to you, you may be bound for a nasty surprise when you are engaged in combat.

      • Kal

        I’m glad you’re consistent. Do you think most people are? And, does “in many cases” for you include everyone who dies, or dies in combat?

      • Murc

        I, for one, am ready to assume that anyone who is fighting for his country is honourable

        I’m actually willing to take this one step farther.

        I am generally willing to assume that anyone is honorable unless given reason to believe otherwise.

  • I find it ironic that there’s probably a large overlap between people who ranted about Hayes’ comments and people who wore little Purple Heart bandaids in 2004…

    • This!!!

      Everyone who is currently bitching about Haye’s treatment of our troops should be forced to wear a tee shirt with John Kerry’s face and the word “HERO” on it, publicly, every day, for the next year.

  • Steve LaBonne

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

    GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
    Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

    In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

    -Wilfred Owen

    • Steve LaBonne

      Apologies to John Protevi, I didn’t read the thread carefully enough. On the other hand, I guess this (and Owen’s other poems) can’t be repeated too often when the warmongers are in full cry.

      • No problem. You’re exactly right about the need to cite, again and again, Owen and the other WWI poets.

  • Joe

    It’s sad he felt he had to do this. He has the respect for his profession that surely made it hard for him. Still, taints the show a little bit. He spoke his honest opinion, in his usual diffident fashion, and had no reason to feel bad about it.

    What other show for Memorial Day would bring in someone with the duty to tell people their children died in war and ask for his viewpoint to get at the true nature of things?

  • Well, this is an interesting question. On the one hand, I couldn’t agree more with the point about how stupid the language around the ritualistic odes to soldiers are (my personal favorite is the obligatory reference to “those defending our freedoms” at every damn civic event, even though nothing of the sort is actually going on at the moment), but I’m not so sure I’d carry that over into a general problem with the existence of Memorial Day (the way every other damn holiday has been co-opted by Fox, the NFL, and the rest of corporate America into another excuse to fellate the military is another matter). And on an individual level, the actual soldiers themselves are obviously a complex lot. Some of them no doubt are horrible people who joined in the hopes of getting to legally kill people and/or because they think it makes them more special than everyone else, but there are plenty of well meaning people who join too, as well as working class/poor kids who (often times rightly) see it as their best chance to get their feet under them economically. Does that make them heroic? Not particularly, but I don’t think the fact that politicians make shitty moral decisions makes them bad people or unworthy of some general level of respect for their station either.

    So I guess this would be my compromise: we keep Memorial Day, but in exchange we prohibit the media from plastering troops on the television on every other holiday, change Veteran’s Day back to Armistice Day, and stop playing the National Anthem every time 100 people get together in public. Deal?

    • Steve LaBonne

      Memorial Day absolutely needs to exist- it’s just that we need to remember what it’s actually for.

      • Yes, it does seem that public Memorial Day celebrations are somewhat short on actual mourning for the casualties of war and filled with an abundance of flag waiving and USA chants, doesn’t it?

  • The author I this article is a douche bag

    “Bullshit terms” like “our heroes?” So a little bit of honor is too much to ask? Clearly you, the author of that quote, are a worthless fuck. How about that for screaming and hatred? And it’s coming from someone who has been in Iraq and understands the cost. We have lost our minds as a society when a holiday like Memorial Day serves as a launch pad for bullshit articles like this one, instead of a time to show some respect and be grateful for a day! Fuck this website.

    • Malaclypse

      Thank you for your calm, well-reasoned viewpoint. Do you have a news-letter wherein I might read more?

    • Steve LaBonne

      No, we’ve lost our minds when a day of remembrance for the dead becomes an excuse for jingoistic flag-waving and an orgy of enthusiasm for sending yet more kids to be killed for dubious causes.

      • Furious Jorge

        But goddammit, he wants his gratitude! Just for one day! Why won’t you give him the gratitude he deserves???

        • Steve LaBonne

          I will- on Veterans Day, which is the day set aside to honor living veterans.

    • Dirk Gently

      But you see, that right there is the problem: we are told to feel “grateful”. For what, can I ask? What did all the brave men (and women) who died in Iraq give us, exactly? Precisely what did their sacrifice grant me?

      MAYBE you could make the argument that certain Iraqis should be grateful.

      That doesn’t make their sacrifice dishonorable, and some of them were undoubtedly heroes–to their fellow soldiers, to civilians in the area, etc. But the whole point of questioning the use of “hero” as it’s invoked in memorial services for all war dead is how that’s used as a cudgel to propagate the idea you just espoused: that we should be GRATEFUL that people die in wars.

      • The author I this article is a douche bag

        Let’s see- grateful for the fact that someone volunteered to fight for you (however unappreciative you may be), to defend the county that you are so fortunate to live in, and for the fact that someone gave their life in the name of something bigger than themselves. How about that? Are you so childish and that one must hand you a lollipop or piece of candy, so you have something concrete to say thank you for? Or how about the mere fact that they fought and gave their lives so you don’t have to? Can you be thankful for that? Do you value your life? Are you grateful for your existence?

        No doubt you guys are well read and seemingly well-educated. But I’ve never seen so many slimy unpatrotic yellow bastards in one place. You guys are sad. And to think, you probably had flags on your bumper after 9/11 and can’t even find Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. Good luck to you….hope you feel warm in the Internet embrace of your digital friends. Maybe you can just pack up and move to a war zone? Would you be grateful to return? Maybe you can continue your life of website-posting and spewing your anti-nationalist sentiment from some hellhole with bullets flying over your head

        • All lawyers are heroes.

        • Steve LaBonne

          I’m a damn proud anti-nationalist. Nationalism is what causes morally cretinous assholes like you to applaud sending young people off to be killed and maimed in countries they know nothing about for causes they do not understand (and which more often than not have nothing to do with defending this country.) Go Cheney yourself.

        • Malaclypse

          But I’ve never seen so many slimy unpatrotic [sic] yellow bastards in one place.

          You are clearly unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Jonah Goldberg.

          • Steve LaBonne

            Good call. Not only does nationalism != patriotism, but the contemporary American right is as anti-patriotic as the proto-collaborationist right of the French Third Republic. In both cases we are dealing with the people who really DO hate us for our freedom.

            • The author I this article is a douche bag

              Left, right, who cares? I’m registered independent because I think there are major issues with extremes on both sides. But let me disengage. I’ll let Alan G. Kaufman fight the good fight (see his post below that nobody can seem to touch) and go tit for tat with your quotes and historical references.

              Cheers

        • djw

          to defend the county that you are so fortunate to live in

          But they weren’t doing that. I’ll give them credit for signing up to do that, but that’s not how it played out, and pretending otherwise out of “respect” is actually quite patronizing.

        • Furious Jorge

          Let’s see- grateful for the fact that someone volunteered to fight for you (however unappreciative you may be)

          Nobody fought in Iraq for me. I never asked anyone to fight there, and what they were doing there had nothing to do with me or almost any other American.

          to defend the county that you are so fortunate to live in

          Not in Iraq they weren’t. Iraq never attacked us, posed no threat against us.

          and for the fact that someone gave their life in the name of something bigger than themselves.

          That would be the political and financial ambitions of Dick Cheney. Which, I agree, are enormous.

  • Dirk Gently

    The term “hero” should be simply avoided, just as should the term “baby killer.” We shouldn’t pretend to know what is in the hearts or actions of our war dead. We should simply MEMORIALIZE them for who they were in civilian life. There should be no flyovers, no flag waving. There should be moments of silence. Thinking about all the people who have died should feel us with regret and shame, no matter what the cause, because what war really indicates is failure.

    What we’re supposed to remember on Memorial Day, I believe, is that we are constantly incapable of avoiding sending away people to kill and be killed. This should be a humble exercise, not a proud one.

    Unfortunately we live in a country in which expressing that very basic sentiment is somehow radical.

  • joe from Lowell

    I prefer “honored dead,” the term Lincoln used at Gettysburg.

    If everyone in a hero, then no one is. Military citations commonly include the phrase “above and beyond the call of duty,” with the implication that there is a baseline, and that being heroic means going beyond it.

    • Joe

      That’s pretty good.

      A vet told me recently that he has mixed feelings over the whole idea of MD, since there are so many other people who let’s say are “heroic” and we don’t have a day for them.

      Anyway, I recall many an actual vet who went into battle not accepting the “hero” line, saying they just did their duty. The keyboard commando squad and the PC police have something else to say.

    • Alan G. Kaufman

      Among soldiers, a hero is one who does more than his or her duty. Where does the soldier fall, however, among the rest?

  • Alan G. Kaufman

    Those American service men and women, and associated civilians, who die or are wounded in war and peace deserve our utmost thanks and respect as their sacrifice is made in the name and for the sake of our country. Take issue with those politicians that commit those fine men and women into harms way, not with those for whom the bell has tolled

    • Paul Campos

      This is sentimental nonsense. People join the armed forces for good reasons, bad reasons, and sometimes because the sun got in their eyes. Some of them are fine men and women; some of them are not (if there’s any evidence that the proportion is different than for other occupations it would be nice to see it).

      The allusion to Donne is particularly inapt: the point of that passage is precisely to dispute the claim that anyone’s death is to be regretted more (or less) than anyone else’s.

      • Alan G. Kaufman

        Whatever might be the relevance of why people join the military to the question of whether or not they should be honored for their service or sacrifice? As Kipling points out about how soldiers think of it: “We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too, But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you.” So what? What matters is what they do, not why they do it.

        The point of the passage, forgive me Professor, is that no man is an island, that we are all in it together, that every and any person’s death diminishes each of us….and thus we are each diminished by the loss of those we send to war in our name. So we mourn their loss, which is ours as well, and honor them and that which they did for us in our name.

        No living soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine or Coast Guardsman that I know or have ever known would claim the title “hero.” Even living recipients of the Medal of Honor reject the label. And not every soldier serves with distinction. But every one does serve. Us.

        “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
        – John Stuart Mill

  • Coming late to the war poetry party, but it seems like Chris Hayes could have quoted this:

    When You see Millions of the Mouthless Dead

    When you see millions of the mouthless dead
    Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
    Say not soft things as other men have said,
    That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
    Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
    It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
    Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
    Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
    Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
    ‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
    Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
    Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
    It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
    Great death has made all his for evermore.

    Charles Sorley, 1915

    Of the conversation after the broadcast, I think Keith Douglas’ “Simplfy Me When I’m Dead” is probably the most horrifically relevant.

    Thanks,
    -V.

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