Quickly, Americans shifted from a discussion of policy to a symbolic battle over which side, Democratic or Republican, wasnât respecting soldiers enough. Had the president disrespected the troops with his comment? Had Democrats disrespected the troops by trying to use a condolence call for political leverage? Someone clearly had run afoul of an odd form of political correctness, âpatriotic correctness.â
Since, as recent history has shown us, violating the rules of patriotic correctness is a far worse sin in the eyes of the American public than sending soldiers to die uselessly, the political battle became intense, and the White House was forced to respond. And since in a symbolic debate of this kind nothing is better than an old soldier, the retired Marine general and current chief of staff, John Kelly, was trotted out in an Oct. 19 news conference to defend the president.
He began powerfully enough, describing what happens to the bodies of soldiers killed overseas, and bringing up his own still painful memories of the loss of his son, who died in Afghanistan in 2010. He spoke with pride of the men and women in uniform.
But then, in an all too common move, he transitioned to expressing contempt for the civilian world. He complained that nothing seemed to be sacred in America anymore, not women, not religion, not even âthe dignity of life.â He told the audience that service members volunteer even though âthereâs nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required.â He said veterans feel âa little bit sorryâ for civilians who donât know the joys of service.
To cap things off, he took questions only from reporters who knew families who had lost loved ones overseas. The rest of the journalists, and by extension the rest of the American public who donât know any Gold Star families, were effectively told they had no place in the debate.
Such disdain for those who havenât served and yet dare to have opinions about military matters is nothing new for Mr. Kelly. In a 2010 speech after the death of his son, Mr. Kelly improbably claimed that we were winning in Afghanistan, but that âyou wouldnât know it because successes go unreportedâ by members of the ââknow it allâ chattering classâ who âalways seem to know better, but have never themselves been in the arena.â And he argued that to oppose the war, which our current secretary of defense last year testified to Congress we were not winning, meant âslighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to the nation.â
This is a common attitude among a significant faction of veterans. As one former member of the Special Forces put it in a social media post responding to the liberal outcry over the deaths in Niger, âWe did what we did so that you can be free to naĂŻvely judge us, complain about the manner in which we kept you safeâ and âjust all around live your worthless sponge lives.â His commentary, which was liked and shared thousands of times, is just a more embittered form of the sentiment I indulged in as a young lieutenant in Iraq.