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Copyright John T. Reed
The “wounded warrior” thing is getting on my nerves.
I am going to criticize some of them and those who proselytize for them in part and those who cause them to become wounded.
As a result, I will get crap for it. In most cases, the people who give me crap for it are the kind who say they hate political correctness.
I hate political correctness. I am the gold standard of hating political correctness. I almost do not bother writing about a subject unless what I say is politically incorrect. It is an extension of the number two rule of journalism: write only man-bites-dog stories. (Rule number one is “Get your facts straight.”)
My recent articles include one that says if you favor a progressive income tax and a safety net, you are a Marxist. If you would have written that article had you believed it, you truly hate political correctness. But the vast majority, even of my readers, would never write such a thing even if they believed it, because it would make them unpopular. That reluctance is political correctness because political is another word for popular.
So do not bother to write to me to complain that I am not allowed to write this article regardless of its validity. I can write whatever I want. I did a tour in Vietnam where I was risking my life for freedom, mainly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Having risked all for that right, I will damn well now exercise it.
The people most likely to criticize this article are chicken hawks or relatives of “wounded warriors.” Chicken hawks can kiss my ass. Relatives are the most unobjective humans on earth. I do not debate with people who are incapable of objectivity.
My article setting forth many of the disadvantages of going to West Point, my undergraduate alma mater, along with some of its advantages, is criticized most by moms of cadets and moms of recent West Point grads. Certainly they, not I, would be the experts on what it means to attend, graduate from, and live a life as a graduate of West Point, he said sarcastically. Moms are utterly incapable of objectivity on an issue like their son going to a service academy and/or serving in the military during a war. I had a mom. She was an unabashed supporter of me and West Point—bumper stickers, zillions of photos, etc. And she was unobjective about it all. She urged me to stay in the Army for a career. I told her I would stay in one more second than necessary when hell froze over.
So if you plan on telling me I have no right to write this article, save your breath. On the other hand, if you find an error or omission in my facts or logic, please tell me about it so I can recheck and take appropriate action.
The goal in war is to win, not to get wounded.
You think that’s too obvious to mention?
Think about it. We have not won a war since 1945. We have gradually, unconsciously switched our national focus from victory to celebrating the victimhood of our soldiers. We also attribute heroism, now, to all who merely enlist. Old photos of the victors in World War II, guys like Dwight Eisenhower, show he wore a mere three rows of ribbons. Contrast that with the “no room for any more” medals of current generals WHO NEVER WON A WAR like David Petraeus. We have taken our eyes off the ball. We used to win. Now we just “serve,” deploy, get wounded, suffer from countless combat-related maladies, lift weights, and give each other medals. All of this crap was supposed to be subsets of victory. Now they are substitutes for victory.
In 1945, we had victory parades around the U.S.
Now, we have TV commercials soliciting money for the Wounded Warrior Project—the charity—and wounded warriors—lower case—the soldiers who are disabled as a result of wounds received in Iraq and Afghanistan. In these commercials, a guy with a black cowboy hat and a pick-up truck commercial voice sings a mournful, plaintive, whiny “Say a prayer for peace.” He is Trace Adkins. He played a little football at Louisiana Tech before he dropped out. His claim to fame, other than singing country songs, seems to be that he worked on an oil rig for some unspecified period of time. Never served in the military.
Peace, as I wrote in one of my earliest web articles, is acceptance of the status quo. Accepting the status quo is only appropriate when the status quo is acceptable. When it is not, screw peace.
Say a prayer for victory.
Better yet, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. You don’t win wars with prayers. You win them with bayonets, bullets, and bombs. If prayer is a supplement for effective actions that advance the cause of victory, it won’t hurt. But if it is a substitute for action, screw prayer. That won’t “get her done,” to quote another guy with a pick-up-truck commercial voice.
In the Wounded Warrior Project TV commercials, veterans of our recent wars and their families are depicted in the most pathetic ways possible. The auditions seem to have been designed to maximize patheticness. As if America’s combat vets were the equivalent of some dirty-faced urchin in an unspecified country being used to raise money for yet another vaguely defined help-the-children charity were the fund raisers get more of your money than the children.
A reader said they were “heart-wrenching,” not “pathetic.”
I think that is part of what the Hollywood people who created the Wounded Warrior Project TV ads are trying to accomplish with viewers/potential contribuors.
1. Arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness
2. Miserably inadequate
Note that the word “sadness” appears in both the definitions.
The bottom line is the bottom line. The makers of the Wounded Warrior TV ad are trying to maximize viewer money contributions.
I am not an expert on making TV commercials, but because of various experiences I will not go into here, I have more knowledge of it than laymen. Here is how I think they made the ad.
A half dozen or so disabled vets and their families appear in each ad. To get those winning performances, they probably interviewed on camera about 50 to 100 disabled vets and wives and only used the most heart-wrenching, pathetic performances.
Furthermore, each vet/wife was probably interviewed and filmed for 30 to 60 minutes then they took the most tear-jerking 10 or 15 seconds from each for the ad.
My problem is I tend to think of vets as my men as a result of having commanded troops in a half dozen units during my brief military “career.” I do not like my guys being robbed of their dignity and pride and independence so some fundraising company can make money. I do not like my men being turned into beggars. They deserve better than that.
They could have, and should have, used the footage that showed proud, happy, disabled vets and their families making use of some Wounded Warrior Project service or product and being helped thereby. They could have, and should have, left the choking back tears and confessions of suicidal thoughts and the scenes of a vet who apparently cannot speak because of brain damage on the cutting room floor. Some of the statements made by vets in the comercial would fall under doctor-patient privilege or the Health Information Privacy Protection Act. I do not think such laws were broken in the making of the commercials. The patient can probably waive those rights.
But I doubt a doctor treating these vets would have recommended their publicly revealing private health information that others have no right to reveal, like suicidal thoughts.
I read a book once by a female plastic surgeon. She was quite angry about the way patients were treated and depicted on “makeover” TV shows. The treatment and depictions were geared to maximize ratings, not the health of the patients in question. For example, patients were shown crying as they reacted to various medical consultations and interim results of the procedures and were kept away from needed psychological support like family and friends so as to maximize the ta da revealing of the made over person at the end of the show.
Wounded Warrior’s Hollywood subcontractors also could have left Trace Adkins on the cutting room floor and gotten an actual veteran like Clint Eastwood or Daniel Inouye or Kris Kristofferson (pick-up truck commercial voice, too), Willie Nelson, Max Cleland, Charley Pride, Mel Tillis. In fact, considering how many celebrities are veterans, including many who were wounded, Wounded Warrior Project owes the veteran community an explanation of why it uses non-vets like Adkins and Bill O’Reilly as celebrity spokesmen. Are the celebrity vets not good enough? Are they not as believable as non-vet Trace Adkins when talking about the needs of disabled vets? Did they get approached for the job and turn it down? If so, why did they turn it down? To me, people like Trace Adkins or Bill O’Reilly being the celebrity spokesmen for veterans charities almost mocks the service of the vets. These are people who were once military age. They could have served. They chose not to. Now they get the favorable publicity of associating with veterans causes while veterans would would have liked to do the gig are shunted aside—like non-celebrity disabled vets who can’t get a job. Perhaps they should do a Wounded Celebrity Veterans Project commercial where the ignored wounded celebrities choke back tears about losing a job appearing in a TV commercial for vets to non-vet celebrities.
We still occasionally see military recruiting TV ads. One current one shows Marines in full dress blues doing a drill-team performance.
Which is it, guys? Is a Marine a good-looking guy in a dress blue uniform with white gloves tossing an M-14 rifle with a chrome-plated bayonet to another such Marine, or is he a pathetic, broken man with missing limbs, inability to speak, talking about brain or retina damage or suicidal impulses? Which is it? Is one of you lying? The two commercials certainly seem about polar opposites, yet they are each talking abouth the same thing—U.S. military personnel.
Combine the two commercials—recruiting and wounded—so potential recruits to our all-volunteer military can see the full spectrum of what might happen to them in the military. If 10% of marines or army infantry get disabled from wounds, spend 10% of your recruiting commercial showing them in that state. They don’t all get wounded, and they don’t all get assigned to DC area rifle drill teams. Throw in an enlisted man cleaning toilets for his entire four-year enlistment like the one I recently saw on a TV documentary about an aircraft carrier.
I am a Vietnam vet. Indeed, I am technically a disabled veteran. BFD. I almost never mention that because my disability is still marginal—a high-frequency hearing loss from loud gunfire—rifles, tanks, and heavy artillery—the latter in Vietnam where our 8-inch and 175 mm self-propelled howitzers were purportedly being fired in anger.
In World War II, my father and uncles and everyone else was eligible to get Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance. It was a good deal. In Vietnam, only disabled vets could get SGLI. The only significance of my “disability” thus far in my life has been that I have SGLI. The doctors in the Army said although I did not have a hearing loss that constituted a disability deserving of monetary compensation, I would likely suffer a greater hearing loss, sooner, when I got older as a result of the gunfire. At that time, I would be able to get some money for the disability. Although my family occasionally badgers me into getting hearing tests, I keep passing them, and receive no disability payments.
In California where I live, I could probably get one of those disabled vet license plates, and the resulting sympathy and “thank you for your service.” Give it to somebody more deserving.
The answer to the which is it—full-dress parades or prosthetics—is both. At West Point, I was among the 4,000 cadets marching on the Plain in full dress parades with our starched white trousers, M-14 rifles with chrome-plated bayonets. Later the fact that I had been a West Point cadet meant I was living in a bunker in Vietnam where fighting rats and thumb-size roaches crawling over me would wake me up.
Rats and giant roaches weren’t so bad considering the time I happened to be in DC when my class held a memorial service at the Vietnam Dead Wall. We were on a hill about 40 yards from the Wall. Remarks were delivered. A bugler played taps, then we classmates headed down the hill toward the Wall to look for the names of our 20 dead classmates. The tourists, seeing us coming in a group, were routed like some outnumbered enemy unexpectedly giving us the Wall to ourselves. My 20 classmates would rather rats and roaches had been their biggest problem in Vietnam.
You wanna go into the military? Fine. You are likely to get a little bit of marching in parades, which are less fun when you are marching than when you are just spectating. You are likely to get a little bit of rats and roaches. And you are likely to get a little bit of death or wounding in your unit—maybe your death or your wounds.
My 20 classmates who died in Vietnam also had moms. They, too, need to merge the recruiting and Wounded Warrior TV commercials when deciding whether to give their blessing to their child’s desire to enter the military.
I got into an argument with a grad school classmate a couple of years ago. He said his son was going to follow in some of my footsteps and become an airborne ranger Army officer. He had already accomplished the Army officer part, albeit not via West Point.
“Tell him not to go to ranger and airborne and to get out of the Army ASAP.”
“Everyone in Marin County told him that. He refused to change his mind.”
“Maybe he’ll change it if a West Point grad Vietnam vet tells him instead of a bunch of EST graduates.”
“With all due respect, it’s his decision.”
“With all due respect, bullshit! He is not qualified to make the decision and it is often irrevocable—namely, his body parts that they could find coming home in a body bag. It’s a life or death mistake. You need to intervene.”
“It’s HIS decision.”
“How do you figure? Because some ancient court decision says he’s an adult at age 21? How much comfort do you think you’ll get out of that logic if two Army officers in Class A uniforms are ringing your doorbell? Talk him out of it. I’m trying to save your son’s life here. I know a little bit about being an airborne ranger Army officer during war time. Your son doesn’t know shit about it and neither do you.”
He ended up bragging about his son’s amazingly low body fat percentage. “Tell him to jack his body fat percentage up to about 20% if he is going to ranger school. He’ll need it for insulation in the winter [the season when his son was to enter ranger school] and he’ll need the body fat because they starve him there and his body will rob needed nutrients permanently from bone and other organs if it can’t get it from fat.”
My classmate thought that was the opposite of good advice because you obviously have to be in shape to succeed in ranger school.
“Yeah, what would I know about it. I only graduated from the school and know about 400 West Point classmates who did the same.” (My article on ranger school is at www.johntreed.com/ranger.html.)
I get a sense that current Americanssort of think wounded combat vets were invented for the first time in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Sure, they will tell you that there were also wounded vets in Vietnam and Korea and World Wars I and II. Yeah, there were. I was born in 1946, the year after my dad and uncles returned from World War II. My uncle Bill served in the Korean war. I went to Vietnam.
I do not remember any “wounded warriors” back then. There were disabled vets, but they were not on TV. They got the help they needed from the Veterans Administration and there was little discussion of it. Some, like Senators Daniel Inouye and Bob Dole and John McCain parlayed their war wounds into political careers. Dole ran for president on the Republican ticket in 1996; McCain in 2008.
I think disabled vets may have received some preference for some government jobs.
They did not talk about their wounds or war time experiences. If you pushed them, they would just say they did their jobs and you should give your sympathy and hero-worship to the guys who didn’t make it back. Their disabilities were hidden as much as possible. If they had a prosthetic limb, it was camouflaged as much as possible so that the vet in question could pass for a normal man.
No one suggested that the disabled vets were pathetic then. People felt sorry for them. But no one encouraged them to feel sorry for themselves like the guys in the current Wounded Warrior commercials. Generally, my impression growing up was that they pre-21st century vets adjusted to their disability as best they could, as did their friends and relatives, and got on with their lives.
The same is true of Vietnam vets with the notable exceptions of those claiming disability due to Agent Orange and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have a web article titled “Agent Orange never hurt anyone” and that title tells you what I found when I researched it. I don’t have any conclusions about PTSD, but I am skeptical. I guess about 600 of my West Point classmates went to Vietnam. I am not aware of any who claim to have PTSD, although I met one who worked for the VA helping PTSD Vietnam vets. If PTSD is real and as widespread as claimed, how could none of my West Point classmates, who were platoon leaders in Vietnam, not have it?
Starting with Vietnam, which we lost, many vets including disabled ones and fake vets who never served in Vietnam or even in the military, starting sitting at card tables around military monuments, speaking to school classes, wearing combat military uniforms, seeking charity using a military ammunition can (available for $5 ar $10 at your local gun show) to hold the contributions. They were looking for sympathy and charity and attention. I think I speak for most Vietnam vets when I say that the professional “Nam” vets are unrepresentative, embarrassments, and in many cases, frauds. See the book Stolen Valor.
It appears that the professional pathetic combat vet is one of the two things you get from a war. The other is the proud victorious vet. Apparently, you get one or the other, never both from the same war.
In World War II and before, we had our wounded, but the predominant example and image of the war veteran then was of a proud man, wounded or not. Disabled vets were a subset of the victory parade—not the whole parade. They came along behind the able-bodied soldiers marching with rifles—in wheelchairs or riding in open convertibles. They were cheered like the troops at the front of the parade. They were considered the equal of the able-bodied troops in terms of the war they had won, not the stars of the parade as often seems to be the case now.
Korean war vets were sort of forgotten and invisible because that war ended in a tie. Then, we lost in Vietnam, and arguably in Lebanon and Somalia. Granada, Panama, and Desert Storm were victories, but not against the sort of worthy opponents we had in World War II. Iraq and Afghanistan? Who knows? Not determined yet.
Douglas MacArthur, first commander in the Korean War, said, at that time, “There is no substitute for victory.” He was responding to being held back by President Truman, who ultimately fired him.
It appears now that there is a substitute for victory. Combat victimhood. We can honor and lavish adulation on Agent Orange victims, PTSD victims, wounded vets, homeless vets. This is partly pushed by the anti-war crowd. They see military victims as evidence that they are right. The more the merrier and the more pathetic the merrier to the anti-war people. Politicians see them as voters to be pandered to like seniors or union members.
It is also a form of penance and compensation by those suffering draft-dodger guilt, rear-area guilt, chicken hawk guilt and all that. “We did not serve, but we give extravagant praise those who did. So we’re off the hook now, right?”
We now have too much “Thank you for your service,” too many deployments, too many purple hearts, too many “support our troops” car magnets, and not enough victories. We appear to have given up all hope of victories and now award all military personnel an E for effort as if the U.S. military were a kindergarten class. I have written some articles pointing out that liberals and career military apparently regard good intentions and occasional tiny progress, although not net overall progress, as 100% substitutes for results. They are no such thing.
Soldiers are not in the military to “serve” or to get wounded or to deploy or to get the Purple Heart or to be the subject of a car magnet, they are in the military to win wars. Americans, including the military itself, have totally lost sight of this.
At the beginning of the Patton movie, actor George C. Scott playing General Patton said
Always remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb son of a bitch die for HIS country. Shoot THEM in the belly. [By the way this YouTube clip is mirror-image backwards. The flag is pointed the wrong direction and Patton seems to salute with his left hand.]
Well, George, welcome to America in 2012 where you do get to be a war hero by simply putting on the uniform on the first day of basic training, and a much bigger hero if you “get wounded for your country.”
I was never wounded. Is that significant for this article? Not really.
I don’t think the public thinks through what being wounded means.
There are number of reasons why a person gets wounded in a combat zone:
A. he or she screws up including deliberately trying to take chances so as to win medals, e.g., John McCain getting shot down for not taking immediate evasive action when he heard a SAM radar warning tone in his earphones and I’m guessing for not getting into the proper position before pulling the ejection handle
B. his or her fellow American military colleagues screw up, e.g., I was almost killed in Vietnam when a soldier hot rodded up to a spot where I was walking by in the motor poll, slammed on the breaks of his duce-and-a-half (big truck), and smashed into a shed I had just walked past—the truck’s driver’s side windshield had the words “no brakes” written in grease pencil—had that happened two seconds sooner, my name would be on the Vietnam Dead Wall. I would have become a “wounded warrior” in 21st century parlance
C. intentional or unintentional friendly fire, e.g., Pat Tillman who was shot in the forehead by Trevor Alders, one of his fellow “elite” rangers or one of my West Point classmates who was fragged to death by unknown soldiers most likely under his command. They are both called “wounded warriors” in the 21st century
D. fortunes of being forced to expose oneself to extreme danger for no good military reason
E. fortunes of war suffered while exposing oneself to extreme danger trying to accomplish a valid, sensible military mission, e.g., unlucky men who died on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944
Publicly, the U.S. military tends to treat all wounded as if they were category E. The American people and the celebrity Wounded Warrior supporters do the same lionizing every “wounded warrior.”
In fact, the vast majority of 21st century wounded, the ones called “wounded warriors,” are in categories A through D. Arguably, all those wounded in the 21st century are non-E wounds, yet we treat them as if they were ALL category E wounds.
All these categories, with the possible exception of accidental deaths not involving the enemy, trigger a purple heart medal. I am not sure any of them deserve a medal.
There is a part of Trophy Point at West Point known as Battle Monument. Officially, it honors “Officers and soldiers of the Regular [Union] Army killed in the US Civil War.” But the Southern cadets at West Point say it is a monument to Confederate marksmanship. Hard to argue with that.
It is also hard to argue with the notion that the U.S. Purple Heart medal is awarded for the marksmanship of enemy soldiers to the mere target of that marksmanship. The guy who is wearing it in the vast majority of cases was wounded because of nothing but bad luck. And to the extent that the wounded man had something to do with getting wounded, he was probably doing something stupid, insubordinate, or incompetent that caused him to get wounded. We should not award medals for bad luck, stupidity, insubordination, or incompetence.
In Vietnam, my platoon sergeant and I drove in a lone jeep on Route 13 to Fire Base Wade which was near Loc Ninh 5 kilometers from the Fish Hook border of Cambodia. Here are several photos of Fire Base Wade. This was before we invaded Cambodia. Vets of that area of operations will recognize that it was extremely dangerous “Indian Country” before the invasion; not so much afterwards.
One one stretch of road near Wade, with elephant grass on either side of the narrow road, my sergeant and I felt very uncomfortable. We stopped talking. We sensed danger. I loaded and cocked my .45 cal. pistol which I had never done before or after.
Nothing happened, but when we got to Wade, they looked at us wide-eyed and asked how we survived the ambush. “What ambush?” A U.S. truck convoy behind us on Route 13—we did not know it was there—was ambushed five or ten minutes after we passed the elephant grass zone near An Loc.
I do not know the details of what happened to those guys but they were probably cut to ribbons by one or more Claymore mines, machines guns, and total surprise.
Were they wounded warriors as the phrase is now used? Absolutely. Were my sergeant and I wounded warriors? Not as the phrase is now used. But what did the wounded warriors in the truck convoy do that we did not to earn a medal?
Truth to tell, they rode in a convoy, as was required by standing operating procedure. That made them safer ostensibly, if there is safety in numbers. But it also made them a more attractive target than a 1st lieutenant and a sergeant first class in a jeep. I suspect we were ordered to go in a lone jeep rather than a convoy because my battalion commander did not like me. That more risky way to traveling that road in that area had the apparently unintended consequence of making us a less attractive target—and saved us from being killed or wounded or captured.
The only difference between us and the “wounded warriors” was luck. So they get medals, maybe all posthumous, and we got nothing. I’m not complaining. I don’t think we deserved medals for driving up that road that day. C’est la guerre. But neither do I think the guys who got hit did anything more laudatory than we did. We all took the same risk driving through dangerous Indian Country.
The idea behind the purple heart is that people who got wounded must have been really close to the enemy in a fight. On Route 13 that day, we could sense the enemy in that elephant grass. It’s thick and about 10 feet high. The enemy cannot do an ambush unless they are no more than about six inches inside it. They have to be able to see what they shoot at and too many inches of elephant grass will stop or slow the bullets. So the “wounded warriors” in that truck convoy behind us were no closer to that enemy unit than we were.
Getting hit by enemy fire in a fight where guys in the same general location were not hit is just bad luck.
My Uncle Carl was wounded by a German machine gun. He was in the infantry in Europe. So was my dad. But my dad took typing in high school. Consequently, he was made company clerk (the job made famous by Radar O’Reilly in M.A.S.H.) in an artillery unit in the 79th infantry Division and not close to enemy fire very often. One of my dad’s friends, Reds Oyster, was killed by enemy artillery fire while on guard duty not far from my dad’s sleeping spot. My dad pulled the same guard duty on other nights. Oyster was a “wounded warrior” by today’s standards. My dad was not, but they did the exact same thing.
My Uncle Jack was a captain in Europe. He was assigned to quartermaster (supply) corps, apparently because of scoring high on the IQ test given in basic training.
So did my dad and Uncle Jack deserve a medal less than my Uncle Carl? I don’t think so. Carl should have probably gotten a combat infantryman’s badge and my dad and Jack should not. But Carl’s Purple Heart really should have been awarded to the German who shot him. Carl had enough scars to prove the wound to any doubters.
The Purple Heart is now awarded also for friendly-fire wounds if there was enemy involved generally in the action in question.
I don’t think anyone should get a medal for something that happened to them or was done to them.
John McCain is often described as a war hero. He got shot down, stabbed by a bayonet, beat up, and tortured. He aso got both shoulders broken, apparently because he did not get into the correct body position before pulling the ejection handle. We all feel bad for him suffering all that. But I saw him on TV once. After being introduced as a war hero he sheepishly protested that he did not think letting himself get shot down and captured was praiseworthy. I agree. He deserves praise for flying the missons he flew over North Vietnam, just like the guys who did so without getting shot down. But getting badly treated by his North Vietnamese captors falls in the category of what Patton was talking about.
You should get a medal for what you do, not what someone else does to you. Having something done to you is passive, luck. You especially should not get a medal for doing something you should not have been doing either because of incompetence or negligence or deliberate efforts to get wounded. But they do give out Purple Hearts to such people, and the Wounded Warrior Project is asking you to donate money, in part, to help those perforated bozos and glory seekers.
My focus in talking about the military is accomplishment of FUTURE missions, namely winning our wars, and the welfare of FUTURE active duty personnel.
But almost everyone other than I greatly restrains any judgmental talk about wounded and standard of performance (like winning) as if the paramount consideration were not hurting the feelings of the wounded and their friends and relatives.
That is a formula for continued creation of too many military losses and too many military casualties.
America must focus, as I do, on winning and avoiding casualties. John Derbyshire of National Review described the opposite focus perfectly in an article about our inability to use commonsense profiling to prevent terror attacks:
Better dead than rude.
I extend the phrase to the inability to criticize our military, especially our wounded.
For young people in the reading audience, the phrase “Better dead than rude” is a play on the erstwhile, even more famous warring phrases “better dead than red” and “better red than dead,” the latter of which was basically liberals saying that freedom was nice, but not worth dying for. It is for another article and others have written them, but many who have had to live under dictatorships concluded that dead was better than being a political slave.
Here, I am saying that ending our streak of military losses and reducing the number of dead and wounded are more important than avoiding hurting the feelings of the already existing wounded and their relatives.
Also, if you are a “wounded warrior” and your feelings are hurt by this article, who directed your attention to it? Get mad at them, not me. I am not interested in talking to “wounded warriors.” I doubt many of them can be objective about their situation, plus, what’s done is done. My focus is on the still-able-bodied, young, military-age Americans and the national defense.
I also have long hated this recent use of the word “warrior”. See my article about the self-styled “selfless warriors.” In this context, the vast majority of the “wounded warriors” were not warriors, at least not at the moment when they were wounded. They are wounded passengers, typically sitting in a moving humvee when it got blown up by an IED set off by a kid who pushed a speed-dial button on a cell phone while looking out a window from three blocks away. In 2007, Newsweek said 80% of U.S. casualties were IED casualties. A “wounded warrior” is someone who was in a knife or gun fight with the enemy when he got wounded. Such wounds have been extremely rare in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of our “wounded wariors” never fired a shot at a confirmed enemy target during their entire time in Iraq or Afghanistan. And probably most of our “wounded warriors” did not fire a shot the day they were wounded. They were trained to be “warriors” and ready and willing to be “warriors,” but they never got the chance. So calling them “warriors” dilutes the meaning of the word and praises the wounded dishonestly for being something they were not.
If America insists on giving a medal for being injured in combat, let’s add devices to them.
There is in the U.S. medal business a thing called a “V” device. It stands for “valor.” It can be attached to the Army Commendation Medal, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Legion of Merit, and Achievement medals when directed by the medal citation. In other words, you can get each of those medals without a “V” device. Wikipedia says it is for
valorous act performed during direct combat with an enemy force. It may also denote an accomplishment of a heroic nature in direct support of operations against an enemy force.
Fine. Now, in the interest of truth in advertising, let’s create devices for the Purple Heart as follows:
• ISU device which means I got wounded because I Screwed Up.
• HSU device which means I got wounded because He Screwed Up where he is a U.S. military colleague.
• FF device which means I got wounded by Friendly Fire.
• NGR device which means I got wounded for No Good Reason, e.g., my battalion commander sent us out on a “show presence” patrol so his bar on the brigade commander’s patrols-sent-out bar graph would be at least as big as the other battalion commanders’. I lost part of my hearing in part so our battalion commander could fire at least as many shells per day as the other battalion commanders in the corps. You can see photos of the actual, exact guns that damaged my hearing in the “Here are some photos of Firebase Wade” link above. When I asked the fire direction center what they were shooting at, they said H&I (harassment and interdiction), in other words, firing into the night for no good reason. Hell, I might be entitled to a Purple Heart with the NGR device!
• no device at all if you got wounded while doing your job competently in a valid mission
If these devices were required, anyone wearing one would be laughed at by his fellow soldiers and any civilians who knew what they meant. Consequently, those who got a Purple Heart for wounds in categories A through D above, would never wear the medal. Good! That is as it should be.
But as it stands now, the category A through D guys are wearing the Purple Heart on their uniform and/or on the license plate or bumper sticker, parading around with their chests out beaming about being John Wayne and John Rambo combined and accepting admirations, sympathies, “thank you for your service”, and free drinks. They are hoping to use the Purple Heart to get laid. They are frauds. They tarnish and diminish the award for those who really won it the way everyone assumes they won it.
The majority of Purple Hearts awarded in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be ones which would require one of the above devices. While the wars may have been for a good reason, the occupations certainly were not. And most of the being wounded and killed took place during the occupations.
The attitude of the public and media about wounded warriors appears to be like that of the Coast Guard to those in trouble, “We don’t care how you got here, we’ll still help you.” Lots of people rescued by the Coast Guard got in trouble because they were drunk or irresponsible out in the water somewhere.
But I think that don’t-care-how attitude is because of public ignorance when it comes to Purple Heart vets. I suspect the public would be less supportive if they knew they were giving money to Purple Heart winners of the A through D categories above.
For a general discussion of U.S. military medals, see my article “Did U.S. military really earn their medals?”
I do not get the whole idea of the Wounded Warrior Project. You can read their web site to see if you can figure it out. They say their purpose is
I am guessing Shinseki would make nice if asked about Wounded Warrior Project, but sounds to me like the VA and Wounded Warrior Project are redundant. Furthermore, there were already dozens of other veterans charities when WWP came on the scene. The mere existence of WWP seems to suggest that Shinseki and the VA are not doing their job, and the VA has been around forever and has dozens of programs covering everything from health to rehab to mortgages to education, etc. The GI Bill helped me pay for graduate school. And I got a VA mortgage once. My dad got a VA loan to start a business and probably a VA home mortgage.
Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is private and generates revenue from contributions—$41 million. $22 million went to actual wounded warrior programs, the rest—about half—to pay administration and fund raising expenses—like the people who produced, and the TV stations that broadcast, the above-mentioned TV commercials. That $22 million is a pittance compared to the $100 billion VA budget.
Its executive director got paid $199,171 and a former officer and founder John Mella, a wounded vet, got paid $230,000 a year. It had a paid staff of 108 back in 2008. There is a web site called Charity Navigator that rates charities on various aspects. WWP’s rating appears disappointing. That web page lists five other charities doing similar work. All of them got higher ratings than WWP.
The American Institute for Philanthropy, now called Charity Watch, also rates charities. Here is an article they wrote about disappointing performance of a number of U.S. veterans charities. They gave WWP a grade of “D” on the standard academic A to F scale. Another web site explains the D as probably stemming from
three major factors which generally explain most of the low ratings:
-- ineptitude at fund raising, i.e., an inability to raise the needed funds,
-- payment of large amounts to outside fund-raising groups or companies in order to raise the needed funds, and
-- payment of excessive salaries and benefits to officers of the organization.
Better Business Bureau says they meet the 20 standards for accountability. BBB did not rate Wounded Warrior Project. On one site, WWP explained that they did not get BBB rating because BBB charges a fee to do that—less than $1,000. Seems to me if they can afford to pay their executives $200,000 a year, they can afford a less-than-$1,000 fee that would help them raise more money for the “wounded warriors.”
WWP started in 2002 as a subsidiary of United Spinal Association. It became separate in 2005. In one form or another, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been around since 1776. You along with your fellow citizens are already “giving” about $100 billion a year to veterans through your taxes and the federal VA budget.
When I researched veterans charity ratings, I found a great many that were rated A+. Seems like you should give to the A+’s before you give to WWP or any other lower rated charity. I also read a lot of stories about veterans charities that get F’s and some that were utterly phony and non-existent but had fabulous, heart-wrenching names. Wounded Warrior Project’s prominence seems to stem mainly from their catchy, glamorous name, celebrity spokesmen, and tear-jerking TV commercials. In terms of both charity ratings, years in existence, and amount of money contributed to vets, they seem to be one of the newest and least of the veterans charities.
While writing this article, I had occasion to check to see if we paid a particular book printing bill. Looking at the canceled checks, I found my wife had given to the Wounded Warrior Project. I informed her of their ratings vis a vis other veterans charities and urged her not to contribute to WWP again.
1. First and foremost the wounded vets themselves are responsible for their disabilities. Since 1973, we have had an all-volunteer military. I was an army officer from 1968 to 1972. Many of my men were draftees. Draftees were, as a group, significantly better soldiers than the volunteers. See my article on the draft. I was also in the 82nd Airborne Division, an all-volunteer paratrooper unit within the part draft, part volunteer military. The airborne troops were, as a group, worse in general than non-airborne troops but probably more gung ho.
My Uncle Carl was wounded, but he had been drafted into that situation. If you volunteer into combat, then get wounded, you deserve a “what did you expect?” and “didn’t about a million people warn you?” My advice at this web site has long been unequivocal. Do not volunteer for the military. I say only draftees should be allowed into the U.S. military except for certain jobs where training and experience are not available in the civilian world and where phobias like acrophobia (fear of heights does not work for paratroopers) and claustrophobia (no good in submarines service) are involved.
If no one volunteered, the U.S. military would have to draft, which it should, and wars would be fewer and shorter. That, in turn, means that fewer “wounded warriors” would have been wounded.
The wounded vets are also responsible in that they should have refrained from category A behavior if any, been on the alert for any category B or C behavior by fellow soldiers, and balked at Category D orders. See my article on the morality of stupid orders. You say you have to obey orders? Well, if you lost your leg or arm or both on some dopey “show presence” patrol, I would ask if you think they would have punished you for balking by amputating your limbs. More likely they would have jerked you around but not wanted to have a court martial where the wisdom of the “show presence” patrol was debated my your lawyer and theirs in front of the international media. And you would still have your leg/arm and some other GI who did not balk would have lost his, providing sadly further evidence that you were right to balk, assuming the mission in question was indeed a No Good Reason risk of lives and limbs.
The parade of U.S. military personnel resignedly marching off to death and maiming since the Korean War in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the others reminds me of the Jews marching off to the death camps in Europe in the 1940s. Too much damned “ours is not to reason why” and not enough demanding that lives not be risked without extremely good reason. The motto of the Jewish Defense League is “Never again” referring to that passive acceptance of the Nazi death sentences. There ought to be a U.S. veterans organization with the same motto referring to all the guys who obeyed stupid orders and thereby got killed or maimed in No Good Reason combat.
Our “wounded warriors” were generally too passive about going on No Good Reason dangerous missions and consequently are partly to blame for the maiming they suffered. I heard the Navy has superiors test subordinates by deliberately giving stupid orders. The subordinate is marked down in his evaluation if he does not protest. Similar thing is done with pilots. See details in my article about the morality of obeying stupid orders.
2. The sergeants and company grade officers above the men who were wounded should also have balked at No Good Reason missions. It has been said that U.S. military officers will risk their lives, but not their careers. Just so. And that is why thousands were wounded in No Good Reason patrols. I do not know how they face “the man in the mirror” each day if they allowed some of their men to be killed or disabled on some waste-of-time, do-something-military, “show presence,” wandering around in known IED alleys. I have read of recent West Point graduates vowing to their men they will risk their lives to save them if necessary. Admirable, although I would say just do it, don’t talk about it. Now how about risking your career for your men, too? I was constantly fighting with my superiors, usually because I was unhappy about how they were treating my men. I did not want a military career at that point, but I could have done without being one of a handful of guys in my West Point class who did not make captain. So I did what I am urging to the extent one can sacrifice his “career” within a five-year West Point commitment.
3. Hollywood makes a lot of money depicting military training and combat as glamorous. And that is perhaps the main reason teenage boys and guys in their early twenties volunteer for it. John Wayne once visited the troops somewhere in Europe during World War II. He got booed off the stage. Those real combat vets, who were not told he would be there, were viscerally revulsed at his movie portrayals of combat that made it look like an attractive adventure. They thought a Hollywood actor who had often portrayed combat soldiers so inaccurately and dishonestly was way out of line visiting the real thing. I wonder how many young men are going to lose their lives or limbs because of the current film Act of Valor.
4. The American people, most now draft dodgers (by outlawing the draft), lavish praise and sympathy and gratitude on all U.S. military calling them all “heroes”—even if they just started basic training yesterday. This reminds me of the practice in high schools of lavishing praise on deceased high school kids who died because of drunk driving or drug overdose or suicide. They used to name buildings and sports facilities after them, until suicidologists said that was encouraging more suicides. There are few ways that teenage boys and young twenties can be praised to the high heavens for their virtues and wonderfulness. Those few are committing suicide, getting killed by alcohol or drugs while still in high school, and going off to the military, especially if they are wounded or killed. To young men who are insecure about their manhood, lacking in self-esteem, naive, and who were shot down by the girl they wanted to take to the prom, a lavish eulogy or Purple Heart can look like their best shot at immortality or public esteem.
Speed kills. So does overpraising and complimenting young men who risk their lives and limbs, or who lose their lives and limbs, in the military. What you subsidize, you get more of. Praise is a form of subsidy, especially to an insecure young man. The recent habit of lavishing praise and free drinks and the rest of it on “wounded warriors” and KIAs encourages more of them. We should not be encouraging more of those things.
The all-volunteer military is a fraud. Grown-ups know that insecure young men are vulnerable to the Hollywood hype and that hundreds of thousands will volunteer for the adventure and chance to impress their friends and make their enemies envious with medals and combat mystique and all that. Grown-ups know the kids who volunteer have no idea what they are getting themselves into. Yet they sin by silence by letting it happen, and by opposing the draft.
“Support our troops” magnets are popular. I got a better idea. Support them by talking them out of being a troop. I told my sons to have nothing to do with the military unless there is a draft and general mobilization of the population for a war. If all parents did the same, there would be a draft U.S. military that fought fewer wars and took far better care to avoid wounded and KIAs.
5. Politicians are sending young men and women to die for political purposes. When I was in Vietnam, I figured I was risking my life to preserve our freedom and liberty. Bullshit! If I had it to do over, I would have had a little as possible to do with the U.S. military. We were in Vietnam because President Lyndon Johnson thought they would be an easy country to defeat and he would look like a big man as a result. Then when it turned out to be hard—because he refused to invade North Vietnam out of fear of World War III—he could not admit he made a mistake. He was succeeded by Nixon who was president when I was in Vietnam. I was a cadet at West Point during the Johnson Administration.
Nixon kept us there for several more years because he could not figure out a way to leave in a dignified manner—“peace with honor” he called it. So I risked my life there and 20 of my classmates died there, not for freedom or liberty, but so Johnson and Nixon could save face politically. We were supposedly stopping North Vietnam from taking over South Vietnam. North Vietnam took over South Vietnam. It was all a waste.
Today’s U.S. “wounded warriors” are being wounded not for freedom and liberty. They are suffering because Bush could not figure out how to leave Iraq and Afghanistan with dignity. Politically, he could not admit occupying Iraq and Afghanistan was a mistake.
Obama ran against the Iraq war, but then chickened out on leaving immediately as he promised. He was afraid it would hurt him politically. The Democrats denounced Iraq as the wrong war and said Afghanistan was the right one. Why? They are actually opposed to all wars, but were afraid to say so. So they denounced the war with the most casualties at the time—Iraq—and adopted their official Democrat Party pet war—Afghanistan—because, at the time, there were few casualties in Afghanistan. By saying Afghanistan was the right war, they could avoid being accused of being soft on terror. But when the casualties went up in Afghanistan, they could not admit they did not really want to be there either, so we stayed and “warriors” got wounded or killed.
None of this has anything to do with protecting American freedom and liberty. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan had any ability to lay a glove on the U.S. freedom and liberty. Nor did either care. If you were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, it wasn’t to protect freedom or liberty. It was to protect the political careers of Bush and Obama.
If you want to defend American freedom, don’t join units like the 82nd Airborne Division or the First Marine Division. They are about as far away from the actual battle for American freedom as they could get. Here are some “units” to join if you are really interested in preserving American freedom:
The danger to American freedom comes from within, not foreign military forces. The measure of our freedom are what percentage of U.S. income does the government spend and how many pages of laws and regulations are there? Every time the percentage of U.S. income spent by the government goes up, we are less free. Every new page of laws or regulations diminishes our freedom and we create 80,000 new pages of laws and regulations a year. Free men choose. Unfree men comply. See my articles Americans do not know the definition of freedom and If you can keep it.
Not only will you advance the cause of freedom in a real way in these “units,” you are almost certain to keep your limbs there.
John T. Reed
The day I finished this article, a scathing Armed Forces Journal article byArmy Ltc Daniel Davis was brought to my attention. I have no idea how an active-duty LTC could publish such an article without being crucified. Last time I saw a LTC do such a thing, it turned out that he was about to retire. Ltc Davis’s article echoes my most severe criticism in the above wounded warriors article: that men are dying and being maimed for no good reason.
One comment I received was that I lacked compassion for the wounded.
Actually, I did not comment one way or the other about my compassion for the wounded, if any, that I feel when I see or read about disabled vets. Concluding that I felt no compassion assumes that my not mentioning it means I did not feel it.
I do not traffic in opinion. Who would care? I also do not traffic in emotion. Some has found its way into some of my writing. If you read all the things at my web site about the military, you will find some emotion leaking out here and there. Generally, my motive when I do that is to admit what many other men would hide. Hiding emotions in such situations strikes me as dishonest or pretending to be tougher than you are. I will not do that.
Generally, however, including in this article, my emotions are none of your business. Why would they be? Also, compassion generally falls into the category of talk is cheap. It is a politician’s word in recent decades. So whether I feel any emotion about the wounded and how much is between me and me.
The fact that others claim they feel compassion may or may not be true. It’s a “he said he said” situation. Since we give no credence to “he said she said” testimony about private two-person encounters, we should give even less to one person proclaiming his own virtuous feelings.
I get this also about my writings about the dead. I actually commented about that in this article and others. My reaction to death in some circumstances is to use the event as a cautionary tale to try to prevent additional similar deaths. Or in this case, similar wounds in the future to other soldiers. Most people follow one guideline in such situations: Never speak ill of the dead and just express your sympathies to the injured or survivors. I am absolutely dead set against that. That clichéd behavior script enables more totally unnecessary injuries and deaths.
I do not speak to the survivors or wounded or their relatives about the dying or the injuring. But I use the cautionary tale deaths and injuries to try to persuade those responsible and those who might suffer the same fate to change course and thereby avoid it. That strikes me as a hell of a lot more productive and an implict expression of concern for the not-yet-wounded. Every time someone dies or gets hurt in the news, media people adopt a sad face, like actors, and spout the same clichéd drivel about “senseless” and “tragedy” and “our hearts go out” and all that.
Talk is cheap, as I said, and in addition to not trafficking in opinion or emotions, I also do not traffic in clichés.
On a number of occasions in my life, others have sort of demanded that I swear a loyalty oath to compassion. Once after I made an anti-rent control speech at a San Francisco convention. A couple of liberal women who worked for some government housing program demanded, “Do you care?” I just glared at them.
I instruct about emotion somewhat in my baseball and football coaching books because each sport has a particular set of emotions that are necessary to top performance.
But I see no need in the world for me to teach others what to feel about the various situations and people that evoke emotional responses. I have no expertise in that area. You feel whatever you feel and just as my feelings are none of your business, yours are none of mine.
I am a ferocious protector of my men. See my baseball safey article which shhows how I protected my baseball players when I was a coach. I did similar things in football although football is pretty squared away injury prevention wise and does not need as much intervention by me. I did not have many occasions in Vietnam to protect the safety of my men because of the nature of my jobs. But I did have occsion to protect my men from things like being awakened when they were supposed to be sleeping to get ready for their night shift. The company commander who did that, then got a tongue lashing from me about it (he was captain; I, a 1st lt.) gave me a 40 on my efficiency report, in an era when anything below 97 ended your career, but he also never woke my night shift up again during the day.
The only safety thing I recall from Vietnam was a squad of my men were sent to Bunard. My battalion generally had M-14 rifles. A handful of our junior officers had M-16s. I asked the battalion commander to assign those M-16s to my Bunard men because all the other troops at Bunard had M-16s so the ammunition and weapons sounds would be compatible with the South Vietnamese rangers and U.S. green berets at Bunard. (In combat, soldiers recognize the sounds of the friendly and enemy weapons. When all the American have M-16s, or so almost all of the Americans think, they may react to the sound of an M-14 as if it were hostile and fire in the direction of the sound. In combat, conformity is a good thing when it comes to ammo, uniforms, and weapons sounds.) In that case, I pissed off my peers, not superiors, because their “toys” were taken away from them temporarily.
Here is an email I got on 3/5/12 fro a reader
You are RIGHT THE FUCK ON THE MONEY with your article about 'wounded warriors.'
Forgive the profanity, but those were the words I was half-shouting at the monitor every other paragraph.
I am with you entirely on this: too much puling and not enough ballsy fighting. Too much gasoline-ass, riding around instead of foot patroling. Too much of anything but get up close and personal with the foe. And too goddamned many apologies to people we ought to be clobbering.
Too much loose use of the word 'hero' too. Just showing up ain't heroic. Dying in your duty is honorable, but not heroic. Turning the tide of battle is the beginning of heroic.
People no longer know what it takes to fight and win, so they prattle on and look for easy substitutes. Gutless and pointless. And criminally wasteful of blood and bone.
I am forwarding your excellent op-ed to my email list. More people need to read this.
Ubi libertas ibi patria
Mr. Valdrow is an Army veteran of the Battle of Mogadishu. His brother is an Army veteran of Iraq. Both were shot at in various ways but the enemy missed in those combat zones. Me, too, if you count enemy rocket attacks. Their father is an Army vet who received 9 Purple Hearts in Korea and Viet Nam.
Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military