Borrowed Valor

Published February 6, 2015

National Review Online

Let me see if I understand this: Chris Kyle was not a hero, but Brian Williams was? What do we make of Williams’s attempt to snatch some vicarious honor?

The response to American Sniper should not surprise us. Bill Maher called Chris Kyle a “psychopath patriot.” It’s more than likely that Mr. Maher thinks all patriots are bit unhinged. Lindy West, writing in the Guardian, called Kyle a “hate-filled killer,” and The Atlantic’s Megan Garber wondered whether “heroism is still heroism when you’re motivated by hatred.”

Spawned in the Vietnam era, the modern Left cut its teeth defaming America. That included a campaign of vilification and slander against Americans who served in Vietnam. The chief spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War was none other than our secretary of state, John F. Kerry. In testimony before Congress, young Kerry claimed that American forces in Vietnam had committed atrocities “in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.” He claimed that they “randomly shot at civilians . . . raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power” and so forth.

When the Naval Investigative Service looked into these allegations, it found that many of the “vets” whose testimony Kerry was vouching for had not even been in Vietnam. Some had never served in the military at all.

This story, among others, is told in Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History, by B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. It recounts how the left-leaning press relied on impostors and liars to create the myth of the “damaged” Vietnam veteran. Leftist moviemakers then spun their preferred history, portraying the war not as a mistake, but as a protracted American crime.

In time, the leftist interpretation of Vietnam became the conventional wisdom — repeated in dozens of documentaries, enshrined in songs and books, and taught to the young through textbooks. When Ronald Reagan argued defiantly in 1980 that “ours was, in truth, a noble cause” it was treated by the press as a gaffe. As Steven Hayward wrote in The Age of Reagan, the Washington Post’s TV critic observed that NBC’s tone “cast doubt on [Reagan’s] fitness as a leader, if not, by implication, on his sanity.”

In time, the Left retreated from its open hostility to soldiers, preferring to characterize them as victims of evil leaders like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney rather than the foam-flecked psychopaths Kerry had conjured. Even Jane Fonda, who famously traveled to North Vietnam and posed frolicking on an anti-aircraft gun (pointed at her countrymen), has, if not apologized, then expressed regret.

Bill Clinton used the U.S. military, but only when his party could be persuaded that no American interests were at stake. That made it pure — like one giant Peace Corps.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the old-fashioned military briefly came back into fashion. Every Democratic politician made it a point to praise their service, and the press treated some individual soldiers (usually women, but sometimes men as well) as admirable. That’s when Brian Williams made his bid for faux heroism. Williams’s self-aggrandizing lie about being under fire is a tribute, of a kind, to true heroism. His deceit contains within it the recognition that the kind of terrors real soldiers face can be ennobling, not corrupting. Hillary Clinton tried to poach some glory herself, by falsely claiming to have dodged sniper fire in Bosnia.

They are both liars and deserve contempt for trying to steal some of the honor that comes with military service without actually risking more than a missed meal.

But they are also the party perpetually poised to condemn our real soldiers. The Left has been attempting to “Vietnamize” the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since Abu Ghraib. The president Clinton served and Williams doubtless voted for has hollowed out the military while declining to name the enemy. The best penance Williams and Clinton could do for their flagrant deceit would be to defend the Chris Kyles of the world against their own friends, colleagues, and donors.

And if John Kerry would like to apologize to the men who sacrificed for this country in Vietnam, it’s not too late.

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2015 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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