Americans love their war heroes. It doesn’t matter where the war was fought, why it was fought, how it was fought, or what the war cost. Every battlefield is holy; every cause is just; every soldier is a potential hero. But what is it that turns an ordinary soldier into a war hero? Since it obviously depends on the criteria employed, is it possible that American war heroes are not heroes at all? Could it be that, rather than being heroes, they are instead dupes?
Democrats who loathe John McCain because he is a Republican and Republicans who consider him to be a lukewarm conservative are united in their belief that, whatever his politics, McCain is a genuine war hero because he spent five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. But one does not have to be a prisoner of war to be considered a war hero. The Department of Defense maintains a website that highlights “the military men and women who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in the Global War on Terror.” Every soldier who died fighting in the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, otherwise known as Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, is also considered to be a war hero.
After McCain graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958, he became a naval aviator. During the Vietnam War he rained down death and destruction on the people of Vietnam during twenty-three bombing missions. After being shot down, he was imprisoned instead of receiving the death sentence his bombs delivered to the Vietnamese. So why is he considered a war hero? If he got what he deserved, there would be 58,257 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. instead of 58,256. Pilots like McCain who drop napalm from the safety of their cockpit are lauded as heroes by the government, the media, and Americans ignorant enough or gullible enough to swallow the myth that there can be heroism in the performance of evil. McCain was even well received by the Vietnamese government in 2000 when he traveled to Vietnam in pursuit of a bilateral trade agreement.
Begun in September of 2006, the DOD “Heroes’ Archive” contains the names of 116 U.S. soldiers who performed some heroic deed fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of the four soldiers currently featured, two were awarded the Bronze Star, one was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross, and the fourth was awarded the Bronze Star, the NATO Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal, and the Outstanding Service Medal. Now, unlike General Petraeus, at least these soldiers earned their metals during real combat. Yet, the fact remains, as Catholic Eastern Rite priest Charles McCarthy has recently stated, “Murder decorated with a ribbon is still murder.”
Both IraqWarHeroes.org and AfghanistanWarheroes.org are “dedicated to our deceased Heroes that have served in Iraq & Afghanistan.” The list of “deceased Heroes” contains the names of 4,591 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t know where these sites are getting their information from. The “Casualties in Iraq” page at Antiwar.com shows a total of 4,528 deaths. But regardless of the exact number, the point is that every soldier who died fighting in the war on terror is said to be a hero. It doesn’t matter if they were killed by enemy fire, roadside bombs, friendly fire, disease, accident, or carelessness — they are all heroes. But since the war in Iraq is senseless, immoral, and criminal does it really matter how these soldiers died? Again, I refer the reader to Father McCarthy:
Authentic heroism is freely taking a grave risk in order to try to do good.
Evil does not become a scintilla less evil because a person put his or her life in jeopardy to do it and is subsequently designated a hero.
This means that whatever we call U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq, we should not call them heroes.
Some of these “heroes” are mercenaries. The “large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny” that our Founding Fathers protested against in the Declaration of Independence are now fighting for the United States in Iraq. Since 9/11, the United States has granted citizenship to over 32,000 foreign soldiers. All it takes now is one year of service in the military to be granted citizenship.
Many of these “heroes” are killers for hire. For them, the enlistment bonuses, the tuition assistance, the student loan repayment plans, the assignment incentive pay, the career training, the thirty days of vacation each year, the free medical and dental care, and the generous retirement benefits are enough to erase any concerns about the morality of traveling thousands of miles away from U.S. soil to kill people they have never met or seen, and that posed no threat to America or Americans.
Most of these “heroes,” however, are dupes. They think they are fighting for our freedoms when instead they are helping to destroy our freedoms. They think they are retaliating for 9/11 when instead they are paving the way for another terrorist attack. They think they are preventing terrorism when instead they are making terrorists. They think they went to Iraq to fight al-Qaeda when instead al-Qaeda came to Iraq because of them. They think they are protecting Israel when instead they are contributing to increased hatred of Israel. They think that our cause is just when instead it violates every just war principle ever formulated. They think they are fighting injustice when instead they are committing a crime against the Iraqi people. They think they are defending the United States when instead they are helping to destroy it.
One of the saddest cases of a duped hero is that of Marine Staff Sergeant Marcus Golczynski. He died fighting in Iraq on March 27 of last year while assigned to the Marine Forces Reserve’s Third Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Fourth Marine Division, in Nashville, Tennessee. He had been in the Marine Reserves for twelve years, and was thirty years old when he died.
About a week before he died, Golczynski sent home this e-mail:
I want all of you to be safe. And please don’t feel bad for us. We are warriors. And as warriors have done before us, we joined this organization and are following orders because we believe that what we are doing is right. Many of us have volunteered to do this a second time due to our deep desire to finish the job we started. We fight and sometimes die so that our families don’t have to. Stand beside us. Because we would do it for you. Because it is our unity that has enabled us to prosper as a nation.
At his funeral in Lewisburg, Tennessee, the eight-year-old son he left behind was presented with the flag from his father’s casket. This was captured in a heart-rending photograph that has circulated around the Internet. But Golczynski was not the only one who was duped. Instead of being outraged about his son’s death, his father said that “we owe a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to pay.” And instead of resenting the government that sent the father of her son to fight and die in a senseless foreign war, his wife said that her husband “made the sacrifice for my freedom.”
The terrible truth, of course, is that Sergeant Golczynski, like all of the other soldiers who died in Iraq, died for a lie. He was duped by his commander in chief who said our cause was just. He was duped by the secretary of defense who said the war would be over quickly. He was duped by his commanding officers who said he should obey orders. He was duped by veterans who said he was fighting for our freedoms. He was duped by Republicans who said he needed to follow the president’s leadership. He was duped by politicians who said we should trust them. He was duped by pundits who said we had to fight them “over there” lest we have to fight them “over here.” He was duped by preachers who said we should obey the powers that be. He was duped by Christians who said we must fight against Islamo-fascism. He was duped by Americans who said he was a hero. He was duped by the lying and killing machine known as his own government.
Marcus Golczynski was not alone. Millions of Americans were duped as well. Millions of Americans remain duped. The fact that McCain can talk about being in Iraq for a hundred years and still be greeted by cheering crowds and receive millions of votes says a lot about just how much Americans are duped.
The love affair that Americans have with all things military must be ended. The United States has become a rogue state, a pariah nation, an evil empire — all made possible by the dupes in the U.S. military we call heroes.