April 20, 2010
Sink the Murtha: Outrage on the High SeasBy Gary Larson
Naming a U.S. Navy ship after a departed congressman is a slap in the face of all veterans. This God-awful decision should not be allowed to stand.
It is a sacrilege, a savage low blow to the United States military, that the late congressman John (Jack) H. Murtha (D-PA) is being honored now by having a U.S. Navy ship named after him. It is a sacrilege of a high order, in the sense of the term's Latin roots meaning "stealing from holy places."
In a world of political outrages, of insensibility to truth and denial of objective realities, this single act brings everlasting discredit to the U.S. Navy. It is really an unforgivable outrage, an affront to all honorably serving veterans and those to serve our nation in the future.
Before he died in February at age 77, Representative Murtha served eighteen terms in the House. During that time, he dished up hundreds millions of dollars for pork projects for his poor district. He urged our nation's surrender and ultimate defeat of a freshly-minted democracy in Iraq. He was embroiled in swept-under-the rug House ethics violations and initially, in Abscam, of being willingly pitched by the FBI agents posing as Saudi "investors."
And, oh yes, the Irish-American congressman, a decorated ex-GI, flat-out accused eight U.S. Marines of the premeditated murders of 24 Iraqi women and children, as he put it, "in cold blood." Asked by MSNBC's Chris Matthews on "Hardball" if his account of the killings was like My Lai in Vietnam, Murtha said, "Exactly!" Mathews smirked.
Murtha had savaged our Marines without benefit of the facts. Later, he was proven wrong on nearly every count. So why is the Navy Department naming its newest amphibious attack ship, of a class normally named after American cities, after the slanderer of our troops in harm's way?
With no sense of irony, Secretary of the Navy Raymond Fabus lauded Murtha in this positively gushing Orwellian statement: "Both in uniform and in the halls of Congress, Chairman Murtha [referring to his high status as chairman of military appropriations] dedicated his life to serving his country, both in the Marine Corps and in Congress. His unwavering support of our sailors and Marines, and in particular our wounded warriors, was well-known and deeply appreciated."
Come again? "Unwavering support"? Let's get real.
Support does not mean recklessly accusing U.S. Marines of murder, as Murtha did in 2005. His accusations made front-page headlines, probably designed to aid fellow Democrat defeatists' undercutting of "Bush's war" that he himself, along with many other Democrats (including John F. Kerry) had endorsed in 2002.
In November 2005, Murtha called for an immediate pullout of U.S. troops in Iraq, thus to leave newly free Iraqis and their fledgling government dangling in the winds of al-Qaeda violence, a bloodbath to come. In short, Murtha and his polemical, pessimistic pals would have employed the old turn-tail-and-run strategy, same as Clinton did in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. That served to embolden al-Queda and their warlord friends.
Calling sternly, unconscionably, for the withdrawal of all coalition forces from Iraq, Murtha was joined by a flock of fellow defeatists, including Senators Kerry, Clinton (who had the gall to call U.S. General David H. Petraeus a liar, to his face yet, in a Senate hearing!) and the soon-to-be-retired Majority Leader Harry Reid, plus one or two RINOs off in left field.
Murtha tagged the eight Marines with murder after a Marine was killed and two wounded by a roadside bomb in war-torn Haditha, Iraq, resulting in an all-out firefight.
After investigation, charges against six of the Marines were dropped, and one was acquitted. The last one, a staff sergeant, will stand military trial in September on charges of voluntary manslaughter, itself an oddity in wartime. Was he, just perhaps, maybe, defending himself in a bloody firefight with insurgents fading into civilian cover?
Who's the real villain here? Cowardly insurgents hiding behind civilians.
That Murtha accused Marines was politically expedient at the time for his party's screaming to get the hell out of Iraq -- maybe to redeploy to Okinawa. Murtha's unfounded and later mostly dismissed charges left an indelible mark; they besmirched the multi-nation coalition's efforts in Operation Iraqi Freedom. And they tarred and feathered the U.S. Marines, especially to the Islamic world, perhaps forever. What a legacy he leaves.
Naturally, as night follows day, the media trumpeted Murtha's allegations. Coverage of charges dropped, not as sensational (and not meeting mainstream media's antiwar agenda) was nearly nonexistent. One had to look hard for it. It might have been buried as a news brief on inside pages, but there was nary a word on network TV news. By then, of course, like toothpaste out of the tube, the damage had been done to the semper fi guys.
The Washington Times editorially denounced the naming of a ship: "This is a slap in the face of every service member who bridled when Murtha publicly accused Marines in Iraq of intentionally killing women and children in cold blood." The honor of a ship name, the editorial added, "shouldn't go to a political hack whose most successful defensive maneuver was saving his pork-laden earmarks from surprise attacks of fiscal responsibility ..."
"This [naming of a ship] dishonors every U.S. Marine who will serve aboard that ship," a Navy officer told the Times. "And it sends a poor message to the acquisition community that politicians can have ships named after them just for sending pork back to their districts." (Nicollo Machiavelli, however, would be pleased.)
Murtha, nicknamed "King of Pork" by detractors, funneled hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars into pet projects in his district, including a little-used airport in Johnstown. (Three flights daily! Non-stop to Washington's Dulles Airport!) It's the aviation equivalent of Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere.
In February, just before Murtha was hospitalized, a see-no-evil House ethics committee comprising mostly fellow Democrats "cleared" him of steering defense contracts to a firm led by a former aide, one that employed his brother, Robert. It also "cleared him" of lesser but equally disturbing allegations connected with his powerful position on the House appropriations committee. Such is the culture of corruption in Washington, D.C.
Some cynics see Speaker Nancy Pelosi behind both the naming of the Navy ship for her House friend and stalwart in addition to the quite serious ethics charges being dropped by the Ethics Committee. Just another day in Foggy Bottom of influence-peddling and charges dismissed. They do stick together, those congresspeople.
Incredibly tone-deaf, with no sense of irony, the Navy is naming its newest San Antonio-class "amphibious transport-dock LPD 26" for skillful politician Murtha. Such ships carry about seven hundred troops, and their equipment and vehicles are for beach assaults or airborne insertions.
Naming this ship after a politician and ardent critic of "Bush's War" is a break from the tradition of naming such ships after cities. Someone at the Navy Department ought to be mightily ashamed.
In his youth, before he became politically potent, Murtha served nobly in Korea and received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for heroic intelligence service in Vietnam. In 1974, he became the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress. Asked about his status as King of Pork in media interviews, Murtha was unrepentant, blasé, actually proud of his pork deliveries back home. Bread and circuses, anyone?
In the future of USNS LPD 26, imagine, if you can, on the bridge or the forecastle, a bronzed tableau, in the form of a plaque, saying something honest, like this, to all who serve on board this sleek, power-packed US Navy ship:
"This ship is named after heroic young U.S. Marine Lt. John Murtha, who served his nation nobly both in Korea and Vietnam, where he received two Purple Hearts. He was elected to Congress in 1974 and served as chairman of the influential House Defense Appropriations Committee, commandeering much-needed funds to improve the military forces of our nation. At the same time, he delivered "pork" to his home congressional district, ensuring his continued reelection to the House (eighteen times!) and the label "King of Pork." His accusations that eight U.S. Marines, much like the ones serving on this ship, were guilty of murder in a 2005 firefight in Iraq made worldwide headlines. Later, the charges were proved baseless for seven of the eight Marines defending themselves in a wartime Iraq. Before his death at age 77 in February 2010, the congressman was cleared of ethics charges related to alleged favoritism in government defense contracts, a move cheered by his boss, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and others who had called also for defeat in Operation Iraqi Freedom. May his proud, early tradition of service to his country be remembered on this attack ship 'LPD 26.'"
Instead of calling their ship the USNS John Murtha, salty sailors and Marines might come up with colorful nicknames for LPD 26. The Washington Times suggests that these might include "Porky Pig" or the unkind "Fat Bastard." Or my guess as an ex-GI and as a veteran of Vietnam: Could be that the "F" word might well be inserted for "Bastard." How about "Cold-blooded Killers"? Any other nominations from our readers?
Gary Larson is a retired newspaper editor and business magazine editor in Minnesota. He is not the cartoonist of the same name. Larson is a USAF veteran of Vietnam, 1964-65.