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August 3, 2007
Two Views of Our Military
Two columns in today's papers illuminate the great divide in how our media views our troops. The vast majority of the media has a disdainful attitude towards the troops (one of the best essays exploring this dynamic is Robert Kaplan's The Media and Medievalism -but there are exceptions : Fox News ( which has programs that honor our troops-Colonel Oliver North's series "War Stories with Oliver North", for example) the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post are notable and honorable exceptions to this prevailing view of the military. Then there are the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
New York Post columnist Ralph Peters has served in the military and associates with soldiers-indeed, he has carved out a reputation of being one of the columnist most familiar with our military. He researches the military and volunteered to serve our nation. In this column, he asks the media to please not insult our soldiers and calls our current forces "history's best-behaved military".
The first few lines in Peters' column is telling:
THE media love to trash our troops. Every crime alleged to have been committed by a soldier or Marine in Iraq is headlined until it seems that those in uniform are so busy with atrocities they haven't got time to fight. He contrasts the relatively low figures involving untoward acts by our troops to Ann Arbor, judged to be one of the best places to live in America. Ann Arbor, a bastion of liberalism (the University of Michigan is located there) compares poorly when it comes to evaluating the beahvior of its citizens with those of our military. However, Ann Arbor is not alone: other cities have populations that behave quite porrly compared to our troops in Iraq.
No accusation is too preposterous for "respected" media outlets to feature, and the left-wing press convicts our troops long before they see a courtroom. Our service members are portrayed (by those who never served) as a sadistic rabble. But when you look at the facts - the hard numbers - a very different picture emerges.
Start with a city that Money magazine rated as "one of the 10 best places to live" in the United States: Ann Arbor, Mich. Home to a great university, the town has a population of about 113,300 - about 20,000 lower than our pre-surge troop numbers in Iraq. Remember Santa Cruz, California and then read how Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks views our troops.
In 2005 (the last year for which statistics are available), that ideal place to live recorded 1,476 crimes that, if committed by a soldier, would have required a general court-martial - plus a further 2,282 thefts and similar infractions that, depending on the details, would have been handled by either a general or a special court-martial.
Twelve months in Ann Arbor, 3,758 court-martial-equivalent trials. If all the crimes had been taken to court, which one doubts. Nineteen months in Iraq, under the complex stresses of combat? Fifty-nine court-martials. Guess that bastion of ethical liberalism in Michigan needs to go through basic training.
But let's give peace a chance: The most dogmatically left-wing city in the United States is undoubtedly (the People's Republic of) Santa Cruz, Calif. With a population of some 55,000 - about a third of our current troop numbers in Iraq - Santa Cruz, where the Age of Aquarius reigns, had 503 violent crimes in 2004 (the latest statistics available) and a total of 3,665 crimes that would qualify for court-martials. Extrapolate those numbers to match our current troop strength, and you'd have a requirement for more than 10,000 court-martial equivalents.
If Santa Cruz were as serious about punishing its criminals as our military is.
The military doesn't do warnings and probation. If a soldier does the crime, he or she will do the time or pay the other relevant penalty - court-martials directly reflect the number of crimes committed. That means that our troops in a combat zone have had less than 1 percent of the crime rate in Santa Cruz - whose City Council in 2003 was proud to be the first in the United States to adopt a resolution denouncing the war in Iraq.
Rosa Brooks lives in Los Angeles. She has never served in the military, has spent her entire working life in academia (she is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and works for George Soros's Open Society Institute. She has served as a consultant for Human Rights Watch which is notoriously anti-American and anti-Israel-and a group that routinely ignored human rights abuses by dictatorships around the world). But she feels qualified at depicting our soldiers as incipient fascists and feels they should not be honored by encomiums or our praise and support.
In today's column (Heroism and the Language of Fascism), she expresses a faint nausea regarding people who support our soldiers. In her view, civil service is commendable, but worshiping soldiers and police for doing their work has "gotten out of control"., Ahh..how comfortable it must be living in the ivory tower-looking down your nose at the soldiers-the peons-defending that tower. Some gems from her column:
But today, just showing up at your Army recruiting station makes you an instant hero -- and getting yourself hurt or killed doubles your heroism, even if you were sound asleep when your supply convoy went over an IED.
The empty rhetoric of heroism is everywhere these days. You know what I mean. Pat Tillman -- the former NFL star -- is "an American hero," apparently because he volunteered for duty along with several hundred thousand other people, then had the misfortune to be accidentally shot by his own side. Every wounded service member is a "hero" too: Sen. Hillary Clinton proudly sponsored the "Heroes at Home Act of 2007," intended to improve medical care for wounded military personnel, and the Defense Department recently sponsored the "Hiring Heroes Career Fair" to encourage companies to hire wounded veterans. No soldier left behind!
But there's a deeper reason to be wary of the "everyone's a hero" rhetoric. Simply put, it fits neatly alongside other terms beloved of the powers that be, such as "warrior" and "the Homeland": It's part of the language of fascism.
For a chilling account of another society in which "the devaluation of the concept of heroism" was "proportional to the frequency of its use and abuse," check out Ilya Zemtsov's "The Encyclopedia of Soviet Life." In 1938, Zemtsov notes, the Soviet Union instituted "the title 'Hero of Socialist Labor'. . . . Thousands of those heroes emerged. . . . The hero was supposed to die in the name of Stalin during wartime [and] give his or her all in labor on communist constructions. . . . [But] a person upon whom the title 'hero' is bestowed has often performed no heroic deed whatsoever, but may receive the title . . . merely in return for displaying loyalty and/or diligence. . . . With time, the awarding of the title came to be used as a token to be disbursed or withheld according to political considerations.