Throughout American history, soldiers have always been held in high esteem. It doesn’t matter where or why a particular war was fought – current and former members of the military have always been put on a pedestal.
We are expected to heap glory, laud, and honor upon them. We are expected to reverence and idolize them. We are expected to post signs expressing our support for them. We are expected to greet them in airports. We are expected to let them serve as role models for our children. We are expected to recognize them at sporting events. We are expected to pray for them during church services. We are expected to let them recruit in schools. We are expected to give them discounts at our businesses. We are expected to give them preference in employment. We are expected to thank them for their service.
To not participate is to be ungrateful for their sacrifice; to object to the attention paid to them is to be unpatriotic. Indeed, to question the military in any way – its size, its budget, its efficiency, its bureaucracy, its contractors, its weaponry, its missions, its effectiveness, its wars, its interventions, and especially its personnel – is to question America itself.
The adulation given to soldiers is especially true if they have been in combat. And this is increasingly the case since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over ten years ago. Never before in American history has such military idolatry gripped the country. Never before have so many Christians bowed before the golden calf of the U.S. military. It has gotten to the point where any soldier who went to Iraq or Afghanistan is a war hero.
It should come as no surprise, then, that some men have taken advantage of Americans’ infatuation with soldiers and all things military.
According to Mary Schantag, a Marine widow who launched the nonprofit Fake Warriors Project in 1998 with her late husband Chuck, her group, along with partners at similar sites, has revealed more than 4,000 hoaxers who falsely claimed military service or battlefield glory. Mrs. Schantag “uses Internet background searches and files Freedom of Information Requests with government agencies to corroborate a suspicious veteran’s claimed history. She also taps her personal connections with Navy SEALS, Army Special Forces, even military chaplains to double check her detective work.”
Just recently, retired Army Staff Sgt. Fred Campbell, one of 10 veterans who operate a virtual detective agency called Guardian of Valor, and who suffers from paralysis on one side as a result of his military service, helped expose military impersonator “Danny Crane,” a fraud who in public routinely wore two Purple Hearts, a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal – none of them earned. In reality, Crane “served less than three months in the Army – never in combat – conned the Department of Veterans Affairs out of $7,000 by claiming he was half blind, had once been shot in the back, suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and had 24 metal plates inserted in his face.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kaiser said Crane concocted the persona of “the most decorated man in Florida.” Crane was recently sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison.
While I certainly don’t condone the lies and stupidity of “Danny Crane,” impersonating a war hero is not the greatest of all sins. All the people that were awed by the sight of someone in a military uniform with a bunch of medals are deceiving themselves just as they were deceived. If Americans paid more attention to where the U.S. military goes, how long it stays, what it does when it is there, and how much of their tax money it spends on offense instead of defense, then a fraud like that perpetrated by “Danny Crane” would never have happened.
If soldiers were viewed as makers of widows and orphans, then the last thing the sight of a soldier in uniform would bring to mind would be a hero. If soldiers were viewed as willingly participating in the invasion, occupation, and destruction of countries that were no threat to the United States, then the sight of someone in a military uniform would bring forth feelings of revulsion instead of respect. If soldiers were viewed as ignorant but willing pawns for the state that just couldn’t find other jobs, then they would be pitied instead of praised. If soldiers were viewed with indifference as just men who have jobs where uniforms are required, they would be looked at no differently than cooks, mechanics, or doormen.
Lucas Tomlinson, a producer for Fox News who happens to be a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and a Navy veteran, recently lamented the absence of military flyovers at Major League Baseball’s “Opening Day” festivities due to budget cuts. “Millions of Americans were left without a critical opportunity to not only showcase our military might, but perhaps the first opportunity to see the military in action and think of a future of service in it,” he wrote. “The military needs to do its part to inspire the next generation of heroes,” he added, thus further cementing and perpetuating the military hero myth.
For a real hero, consider the case of skydiving instructor Orvar Arnarson, part of a skydiving group from Iceland that travels to Florida annually. Footage from his helmet camera shows that he was trying to help another man open his parachute just before they both recently plunged to their deaths. “He was a hero,” said Pasco County detective William Lindsey of Arnarson. “He died a hero.” Indeed he did, and he wasn’t even wearing a military uniform.