Archive - Jun 3, 2010

And I Know, Because I Shot Napoleon

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Memo to America: STOP IDOLIZING MILITARY SERVICE.

There's nothing inherently wrong with military service. But this is America, and if there's one thing America does better than every other country on the face of the earth, it's hyperbole. And man, do we love to apply that hyperbole to military service. The people who served during World War II are now "The Greatest Generation". The mere possibility of sounding like you might not be supporting the troops managed to chill dissent and silence speech for a significant portion of the last decade. And, or course, if you're running for office, you're going to tout your military cred.

Nobody benefited from this more than John McCain did. McCain had an actual heroic POW story, true. But he took the genuine goodwill he received from that service, and spent it over and over and over again to create his own mythical image, all the way through 2008, when he ran in no small part on the fact that he was a military guy and Obama wasn't.

But here's the kicker. Military service doesn't make you a better politician. It doesn't make you a more worthy office-holder. It's only relevant at all in the case of the chickenhawk phenomenon, where people with idolized views of military force, untempered by the reality of war, shape policy around their memories of John Wayne war movies they saw as a kid.

But people still buy into the basic idea, that someone who served has an advantage over someone who didn't, and that someone who served in combat has an advantage over someone who served stateside. And where there is a possible advantage to be had, politicians will try to exploit it, then try to wiggle out when they get busted.

It started with Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat running for the Senate in Connecticut. Well, it didn't -start- with Blumenthal. Politicians have been lying about their service forever. But the latest round of people giving a shit started with Blumenthal, who served stateside during Vietnam, and is on record a few times saying he served -in- Vietnam and implying he had first-hand experience with the public's treatment of Vietnam vets after the war.

Blumenthal fucked up, of course, but on the grand scale of political perfidy, the response by the media was a tad... disproportional. I thought Chris Matthews' head was going to explode in a shower of sour cream and chives. Matthews was this close to challenging Bluemthal to pistols at dawn, but it turns out Blumenthal doesn't own a potato gun.

Of course, a funny thing happens when the media suddenly decides it cares about something it's overlooked for years. And so it was that Mark Kirk, the Republican running for senator of Illinois. Kirk has spent years claiming he won the "Intelligence Officer Of The Year" award. Which doesn't exist. His unit won an award from private industry, but it was a different award. Oops.

He's also been caught doing the "in" versus "during" thing, in Kirk's case for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, personally, I wouldn't claim I was involved in the Iraq clusterfuck in any way, even if I personally hauled Saddam Hussein out of his spider-hole*. Mark Kirk's said he served in it, even though he was here in the Navy Reserves the whole time. Chris Matthews has finally been forced to acknowledge this, after playing several days of that classic political game, "who are you going to believe - Mark Kirk, or your own lying, sprouting eyes?"

But my absolute favorite has got to be Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona famous for signing and defending their ridiculous immigration law that a ridiculous majority of ridiculous people keep supporting in ridiculous polls. Anyway, Brewer was commenting on how hurtful it was for people to compare her law to the Nazis, just because both require minorities to carry around papers to prove their legitimacy or be hassled by authority figures. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"The Nazi comments…they are awful. Knowing that my father died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany, that I lost him when I was 11 because of that…and then to have them call me Hitler’s daughter. It hurts. It’s ugliness beyond anything I’ve ever experienced." - Brewer, speaking to the Arizona Republic.

You know what's coming. Brewer's father, Wilford Drinkwine**, did not fight Nazis in the manner the phrase "died fighting the Nazi regime" evokes. He fought Nazis by getting paid to supervise a Navy munitions depot, the fumes from which gave him the lung disease that killed him in 1955. Not exactly B.J. Blazkowicz, in other words. I'll tell you this, Hitler's daughter never embellished like that during all the years I dated her. But Brewer's spokesman wants us to understand there's nothing wrong with what she said. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Officials with the governor's administration said her statement should not be taken to mean that she was claiming her father was a soldier in Germany during the Nazi regime... 'She wasn't embellishing the story at all,' [spokesman Paul] Senseman said Tuesday. 'You're reading something into this that isn't there.'" - The Arizona Republic.

Senseman to the rescue! Just because she said "fighting the Nazi regime in Germany", you shouldn't take that to mean she was claiming her father was in Germany, fighting, during the Nazi regime. That doesn't make any sense! You're clearly reading things into her statement that aren't there. Senseman away!

Of course, reading things into her statement that weren't there was the whole point. Whether it's Blumenthal claiming to be a Vietnam combat vet, Kirk claiming to be an award-winning Iraqi Freedomizer, or Brewer explaining how her dad fought Nazis, they're all claiming special privilege on account of military service. But even if what they said were true, Kirk's award doesn't make him better than his opponent. Blumenthal doesn't have a special insight that hundreds of thousands of others from that era don't have. And Arizona's law is still fucking racist.

And we'd realize this, and they wouldn't even bother lying about it, if we didn't give so much extra, undeserved credit to military service.

*Which I didn't, by the way. I stood there and told that mustachioed son of a bitch that he'd better climb his own ass out of that hole, that he was getting no help from Uncle Sam's finest! Vote for me in November!

**I have decided, after consulting with my good friends George Washington, George Patton, and Admiral Ackbar, that it would be in bad taste to make fun of Wilford Drinkwine's hilarious name.