We Are All Wounded When Trump Dishonors the Military
The members of our armed services, living and dead, deserve honor
That might be the one thing upon which Americans on both sides of our vast and aching divide still agree. Whether we are veterans or members of military families or not, or even if we are tree-hugging pacifists, we share the understanding that we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who give up years of their lives to put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf, and who often lose those lives, or their limbs, or the peace of their psyches in so doing.
Most of us are hushed with reverence when driving past a military cemetery, or attending a military funeral, or visiting a national shrine such as Arlington National Cemetery or the American Cemetery in Normandy. These experiences invite us to transcend our differences with those on opposite sides of any political or ideological fence as we give witness to valor and sacrifice.
Every American has a stake in the relationship with our armed forces, and a duty to uphold with regard to our service members. That relationship and that duty must be characterized by respect, support, pride, and dignity. As individual citizens, we may take issue with whatever armed conflict our military is ordered into, but our issue must always be with the order itself, or the policy that led to it, and not with the warriors themselves. Again, this is something that is so clear and obvious to most Americans that it’s hard to see why it needs pointing out.
But one American does not understand this: our President
Trump’s failure to recognize the duty and honor due to our veterans, fallen heroes, and active-duty members has been evident since before he took office. In 2015, his on-camera dismissal of Senator John McCain, who was shot down, captured by the North Vietnamese to be tortured and held prisoner for five years, provoked shock among many when Trump said of him:
“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump’s flagrant disrespect of a Gold Star family during the 2016 campaign drew outcry at the time, but like so many Trumpian offenses, it was muffled by the avalanches of norm-shattering outrages that swiftly followed. Just one example is his remark to the widow of US Army Sgt. La David Johnson, slain in Niger in 2017, during what was supposed to be a condolence phone call. According to the widow, her mother, and Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democratic congresswoman who was present at the time, Trump failed to recall the 25-year-old fallen soldier’s name, and callously remarked, “‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.”
It should be no surprise to anyone who’s paid any attention for the past four years that Trump denies saying that, just as he now furiously refutes Jeffrey Goldberg’s bombshell article in The Atlantic (“Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’,” Sept. 8).
Among other examples of Trump’s disdain for the military, Goldberg says that the cancellation of the President’s planned visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery outside of Paris in 2018 was not entirely due to the riskiness of taking a helicopter flight in a rainstorm. Goldberg reports that, according to four sources with first-hand knowledge of the event, Trump was worried about what the weather would do to his hair, and didn’t see the point of the visit in any case:
In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.
There is more to Goldberg’s story, but that section is the one that had the nation’s collective jaw hitting the floor, the White House fervidly defending Trump, and the Current Occupant himself on the attack. “If people really exist that would have said that, they’re low lifes (sic)and they’re liars,” he fumed to reporters the day The Atlantic article appeared.
But Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic as well as a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting — and not generally regarded as a low-life — stands by his report, and other outlets are chiming in with corroboration, including the New York Intelligencer and even Fox News. And CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza observes that the President’s purported behavior in the article fits a well-established pattern.
Even when Trump walks them back, his actions speak for themselves
Hard on the heels of The Atlantic article came the announcement of the imminent demise of The Stars & Stripes, the military newspaper that has been a lifeline for American troops since its first publication during the Civil War. The Stars & Stripes operates with complete editorial independence, publishing articles that are sometimes supportive and sometimes critical of the military, and providing news and vital information to members of the armed forces in regions where they may not have access to other news outlets.
But the Trump Administration’s 2021 defense budget effectively killed the newspaper, zeroing out its funding. The Pentagon has been taking steps to demolish it since the new DOD budget’s announcement in February, but with the paper’s last issue scheduled to be no later than September 30 and the organization that produces it set to be dissolved by the end of January 2021, the Stars & Stripes’ upcoming execution made the news.
The reason for shuttering a vital service to our troops at home and overseas? As an opinion piece in Esquire points out, it’s not easy to fathom, except as another attack on the media combined with general disregard of the military. The S&S annual costs amount to $15.5 million, about 1/20th of one percent of the Department of Defense’s overall $706 billion budget. Apparently the money spent to keep our troops informed was better spent on things like Space Force.
It’s neither good timing nor a good visual for the President, who is in the process of throwing his defense secretary under the bus as he suddenly vows to maintain S&S funding, once again coming to the rescue in a crisis for which he’s responsible. On September 4, he tweeted:
“The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch. It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!”
This may or may not have damaged Trump’s campaign, but it’s damaged us
The Commander in Chief’s disparagement of our fallen heroes is another blow to our country’s reserves of basic civility and decency, made even worse as it comes during a time of deep national distress. And the personal pain it has caused to active-duty troops, veterans, and families of the fallen is heartbreaking, for anyone who has a heart.
Dana Canedy, whose fiancé and father of her son, First Sgt. Charles Monroe Kingel, was killed in Iraq in October 2006, wrote an eloquent opinion piece in The New York Times (“My Son Knows His Father Wasn’t a ‘Loser’ Or a “Sucker,” Sept.4). In it, she describes the confusion and heartbreak of her now 14-year-old son, whom she could not shield from the revelations in The Atlantic’s article:
“Mom, is he talking about my dad? . . . “He shouldn’t say that . . . “My dad was a hero.”
True words, just as it’s true that her son should never have had to cope with the pain of having his loss compounded by seeing his father’s sacrifice ridiculed by the President of the United States. Canedy issues a direct appeal to Trump to apologize, at least to the children of those who have given their lives in service to their country, even if he wants to deny ever having made those comments:
Say that no child should ever think that the commander in chief would utter such hurtful lies. Tell them that their mom or dad — or anyone who has made the ultimate sacrifice — is more of a hero than you will ever be. Humble yourself.
But as we’ve learned, humility is not in Trump’s nature, any more than is the ability to recognize his obligations as a servant of the American people. He has already stated that he sees no reason to apologize for what he claims is “fake news.” He’s more interested in demanding the firing of Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin for backing up some of the claims in The Atlantic.
And so, like the damaged siblings from an abusive home, we are left to deal with the bewilderment and betrayal of the pain meted out by the person who was supposed to guard our safety, our welfare, and our common interests.