Heroes Don’t Shout
The title of Ralph Peters' New York Post column today says it all: HEROES DON'T SHOUT.
The title of Ralph Peters‘ New York Post column today says it all: HEROES DON’T SHOUT.
John Kerry went to Vietnam. Voluntarily. Given that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and every chicken-hawk in the coop did all they could to avoid getting the mud of Indochina on their loafers, his service should make Kerry the election-year choice of those who serve, or once served, in our country’s uniform.
Well, no. I agree that it would naturally make vets consider Kerry seriously but we’re not single issue voters. For that matter, it’s entirely possible for the guy with lesser military experience to be “stronger” on defense issues. See, for example, war hero George McGovern versus staff weenie Richard Nixon in 1972. Or, for that matter, Naval Academy grad and nuke boat vet Jimmy Carter versus actor-in-uniform Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Instead, military men and women are overwhelmingly suspicious of Kerry. Many despise him so intensely that their emotions verge on hatred. What went wrong?
There are three big problems with Kerry from the standpoint of those who are proud of their military service. And one of those reservations has been overlooked entirely by the parade of talking heads, so few of whom have served in uniform themselves.
As far as the swift-boat controversy goes, it’s likely to remain a he-said-she-said issue through Election Day. The red flag to military men and women is that so many swift-boat veterans have come out against John Kerry. Not just one. Not 10. Dozens upon dozens. This is as rare as humility in the Hamptons. Vets stick together. Kerry likes to play up his “band of brothers” image, but if he’s got a band, his opponents have a symphony. And even if the first violinist turns out to be a “Republican stooge,” it’s nonetheless stunning for so many vets to denounce a former comrade publicly. It just doesn’t happen unless something’s really wrong.
As for Kerry’s support from his own crew, that’s normal military psychology. You get the most objective view of a junior leader from his peers Ã¢€” the other swift-boat commanders (and their crews) who had to fear a weak link in the chain.
I think this is correct. Regardless of their partisan beliefs, you’re simply not going to get dozens upon dozens of a guy’s comrades to come out like this unless there’s something seriously wrong. They might come out and endorse George W. Bush, saying that in spite of Kerry’s courageous service, they think Bush would be a better wartime leader for a variety of reasons. But they wouldn’t slander a guy they thought was a hero.
Peters then discusses the well-trod issues of Kerry’s slanders of his fellow vets upon his arrival back home after the war and other reasons why his integrity might be reasonably questioned. And then he hits on the titular theme:
Finally—and this is the one the pundits have trouble grasping, given the self-promoting nature of today’s culture—real heroes don’t call themselves heroes. Honorable soldiers or sailors don’t brag. They let their deeds speak for themselves. Some of the most off-putting words any veteran can utter are “I’m a war hero.”
Real heroes (and I’ve been honored to know some) never portray their service in grandiose terms, telling TV cameras that they’re reporting for duty. Real heroes may be proud of the sacrifices they offered, but they don’t shout for attention.
This is so profoundly a part of the military code of behavior that it cannot be over-emphasized. The rule is that those who brag about being heroes usually aren’t heroes at all. Bragging is for drunks at the end of the bar, not for real vets. And certainly not for anyone who wishes to trade on his service to become our commander-in-chief.
I’m too young to remember the 1972 campaign but I’m reasonably confident that McGovern didn’t make a fuss over his wartime exploits. George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole didn’t, either. John McCain, who certainly earned the right, generally avoided it although he made far more references to it than I’d have liked. Kerry would have been far better off to let others mention his Vietnam service and to otherwise be stoic about it. It would have been more effective and less absurd. I laughed out loud when he rendered his sloppy hand salute and announced that he was “reporting for duty” at the Democratic convention. I suspect I wasn’t alone.