Three Fortunate Sons and the Humiliation of the Military

Representing the strongest nation on earth, Americans fought and died for the sake of Vietnam, a weak and distant nation, to prevent communist domination.  My brother served in Vietnam, and I have worked with hundreds of Vietnam veterans.  I have never spoken to one who is entirely at peace with his service, or who fully credits America's role in trying to prevent the communist takeover of southeast Asia.  I am convinced that many of the few thousand people who actually watch MSNBC are Vietnam vets, understandably embittered to this day.  These not so fortunate sons, who have not claimed the honor they rightfully won, sit at the feet of MSNBC spikey-haired androgynites, and on their walkers and nasal cannulae, they ask, "What were we there for?"

Among Vietnam veterans are three highly decorated men who hold the highest levels of power -- John McCain, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel.  While anti-American, anti-military feelings have been fulfilled beyond anybody's wildest dreams in our current president, the interesting question is how the Obama administration has been able to enlist men whose youths were steeped in love for America, and who risked their lives in Vietnam, to assist President Obama in demeaning the military.

Unlike their boss, these three men were not raised in a climate of animus Americana, and none of their fathers was a communist.  But not one of these red, white, and blue fortunate sons has meaningfully objected to the climate of revenge against the military coming from the federal government: the breaking of promises to disabled veterans, denial of benefits to families of soldiers killed in action, closure of war memorials, cancelation of Fleet Week, and so on.  Their silence indicates a great shift in American consciousness that emerged during the Vietnam War.

By the 1960s, American cultural elites had been soured on America or sympathetic to communism for decades.  The Vietnam War served as an incubator for these sentiments, and it presaged a civil war of the mind that is still being fought.  On one side: the little Americans, humble, pro-moral, the grateful people. On the other: the big Americans, the anti-moral cultural relativists who control the media and educational system, who demean, humiliate, and demoralize America's fighting forces. 

The latter side has prevailed in profound ways.  Many Americans -- perhaps a majority -- no longer take for granted that we are a selfless and exceptional nation that makes sacrifices for freedom.  The a priori optimism that once defined us as a nation seems to have slipped away.  Across the decades, Mr. McCain, Mr. Kerry, and Mr. Hagel have come to embody three aspects of this shift in consciousness.  Mr. McCain represents the psychology of defeat, Mr. Kerry of disloyalty, and Mr. Hagel of demoralization.

John McCain's valor and courage during his ordeal in Vietnam are legendary.  He passed the test with highest honor.  But even he reached a breaking point after relentless abuse and torture when he signed a confession.  In it he tried to signal the insincerity of the document with misspellings and references to Ho Chi Minh as a beloved and respected leader, as well as the ridiculous statement, "I am a black criminal and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate."  Still, Mr. McCain has written about his regret for succumbing to even a faux confession.  "I had learned what we all learned over there. Every man has a breaking point. I had reached mine."

Does that history, which Mr. McCain apparently regards as a defeat, prefigure his 2008 presidential campaign, which seemed to be waged under the banner I Plan to Lose?  He forbade use of his opponent's middle name and refused to address Obama's communist history, his hidden birth certificate and school records, or that his close associate and spiritual leader for decades was an anti-white racist.  Today, Mr. McCain ignores Obama's humiliations of the military and dictatorial actions but excoriates Senator Ted Cruz for literally standing up for his principles in an against-the-odds filibuster.

Only in the context of an anti-American, anti-military power structure could a man like John Kerry become secretary of state.  He was the face of disloyalty during the Vietnam War, rushing from the swift boat in 1971 to the Senate to accuse his comrades of unspeakable atrocities and even likening his fellow servicemen to Genghis Khan.  He found another opportunity to vilify American soldiers in 2005, accusing them of intentionally terrorizing Iraqi children in the dead of night.  Our secretary of state finds his passion when reviling American servicemen from a Senate soapbox.

A psychological evaluation is based on three sets of data: behavioral observations, history, and test results.  Of these, I think history is the most powerful, although the most difficult to accurately obtain.  I didn't know who Chuck Hagel was until I saw his behavioral presentation during the confirmation hearings.  I have evaluated people in handcuffs on their way to prison who appeared more upbeat than did Mr. Hagel.  Trying to convince senators he should be secretary of defense, he appeared to have no faith in his own words.  He looked miserable, like a basically decent man holding a dead canary while repeating the company lie that everything is hunky-dory in the mine.

Mr. Hagel also served with courage and distinction in Vietnam.  Again, how does such a man end up serving the current president?  Following Vietnam, Mr. Hagel worked in the area of the long-term effects of exposure to Agent Orange.  Perhaps this formed the basis of his apparent demoralization.  Perhaps years with Ivy-educated elites in the halls of power took its toll.

The Vietnam War, like its stark, unembellished monument bearing the names of fallen warriors, remains a tabula rasa upon which are projected love for America and confidence in our essential goodness.  And their opposites.

Deborah C. Tyler tweets at @DeborahCTyler.

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