Wall Street Journal

Can we talk honestly here for a minute? It’s just us here now; guys and gals with thick skins thanks to some good old GWOT endless wars that we have been slogging through for a couple decades now. Let’s set aside our inner ideological snowflake-ism and belly up to the bar of ideas for a few rounds. I want to forewarn you all that what I am about to say may conflict with your current American political viewpoints. But hey, we were born in the USA with the right to talk shit and debate shit, and we all took an oath to defend said right. So in the spirit of exercising said rights, from combat vet to combat vet, let’s talk about a disturbing trend that should have vets of all stripes up in arms.

Sure, we have been taught that politics has no place in the ranks. That’s the “de jure” line that is meant to separate politics from our daily professional and operational affairs. But we all can remember, at one point in time or another, the local Barracks Politician ranting about how the Big Cheese in the White House was fucking up somehow. At all levels of the ranks, Joes, NCOS, and Officers shoot the shit about politics. For me it happened literally on my very first drill weekend. I was a progressive kid from New York State, enlisting into a very conservative Louisiana Army National Guard unit, where rants against President Bill Clinton were a regular form of entertainment during breaks in training. I can still see my platoon NCOs sermonizing us young troopies over the inevitable doom America would face because Bill Clinton was the Commander in Chief. He was a draft dodger. He was a womanizer, and worst of all, he was a “Demon-crat”. I shit you not, when he won re-election in 1996, one of the most high-speed, patriotic NCOs in my platoon refused to re-up, hit the big red ETS button, and made sure everyone knew he was pulling pin because, as a principled conservative, he could not continue to serve under Slick Willy.

If you are feeling uncomfortable where this essay is going, maybe you too should pull pin now and  go to your happy place.  But for those who are game for a good bare-knuckle discussion, let’s move out and draw fire.

Having established that it’s normal for troops and vets to debate political and policy aspects relating to all things military, and to throw shade on the Big Cheese now and then, lemme throw some shade. Two things are happening now that are very ABNORMAL.  First, we have a Commander in Chief who has a growing and disturbing track record of publicly trashing active and retired military service members, and perhaps even more disturbing, there is a deafening lack of pushback from our ranks. The silence from the vast majority of military members–past and present–as well as their political, cultural, and fraternal organizations that represent them is, frankly, inexplicable.

While the most publicized example of this is the repeated insulting rants against the recently deceased ‘Murican hero, Senator John “Maverick” McCain, there are many in our ranks who have also been targeted with petty personal vitriol, like Special Operations Commander Retired Admiral William McRaven.

It is almost as if the whole veteran community has suddenly decided it’s okay for a President to trash veterans during campaign rallies, White House press briefings, or while travelling internationally.

Imagine if you will, this alternate universe.  President Obama, while giving a campaign speech in 2008,  tells the country  that his rival, Senator McCain, is “not a war hero”.  He then smirks, and says “I like people who weren’t captured”.  Do you think the mass of  veterans’ organizations would have had something to say about this, and demanded everything from resignation to an apology?

Had any previous president or presidential candidate ever uttered such idiotic and insulting words, the pushback would have literally ended their political campaign and career.

Yet Trump has offered up this type of anti-veteran garbage on the reg , with neither apology, nor hesitation. And to date it’s pretty much crickets from us. Where is the outrage, people?  Where are the bad ass tough-guy t shirts with “This We’ll Defend!” and a picture of the Maverick in his heyday?

OAF? RANGER-UP?????? ZERO FOXTROT??? ANYONE????? I’ve got twenties burning a hole in my pocket to buy one.

Maybe you’re not outraged because you have been too busy fighting the GWOT or drinking beers at the VFW (or both) to follow all this stuff, and it’s your first-time hearing about it.  Maybe you are still unsure if the attacks against the Maverick and McRaven and every other POW (because clearly, they sucked as war fighters and deserved to be captured???) are unwarranted.

So, let’s take a quick moment to review what was shaking back in the good ole days of Nam and Napalm and Hippies, and why these personal attacks are so shallow and hypocritical.

It was the middle sixties, and the current White House occupant was a model of health and physical athleticism during his years at the New York Military Academy.  He excelled in a wide range of sports, and in 1966 was deemed eligible for the draft and fit for military service by doctors.

But when his military academy tenure ended, instead of joining the fight, he bopped right into college, and racked up four academic deferments to shield him from the draft, which was pretty common for rich kids at the time.  But once he graduated from college, and was eligible to be drafted into service, lo and behold he suddenly realized he had a birth defect in the form of painful bone spurs. When all was said and done, the President applied for–and got–a total of FIVE deferments to avoid serving in  the war.  His recent explanation for all of this is even more ham-handed and contradictory, should you care to delve deeper into it.

In defense of POTUS 45, Trump wasn’t the first of today’s political leaders to chicken-hawk their way out of service in Vietnam. One thing that was pretty bi-partisan in America during Vietnam is that liberal and conservative privileged kids had an escape hatch from service, and very few went down range. From the GOP, Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney, and from the Dems the aforementioned Bill Clinton and Joe Biden all happily took a rain check to avoid Ho Chi Minh. Which is what makes Senator McCain so unique here, and so worthy of our defense as a veteran community.

In closing, this issue should be one of the most cut and dry, easy peasy things for the veteran community to speak out on.  If you have chosen to stay silent on this trash talk against veterans from someone who ducked and dodged service in a time of war,  then shame on you. If your allegiance to a politician is greater than your love for your brothers and sisters in uniform, and the honor of selfless service, then WTF  OVER?!?!

Ben Tupper
Ben started his 20-year career as an enlisted medic and ended as an Infantry Officer. The zenith of his misadventures and maladies was a tour with an Embedded Training Team (ETT) in Afghanistan, where he earned his military badges and bobbles, but also cut his teeth as a writer and author. You can find his offerings and appearances on NPR, BBC, Slate, PBS, Fox, or read the long-form of his experiences in his first book Greetings From Afghanistan- Send More Ammo. You may find him checking in on his bar The Beer Belly Deli and Pub in Syracuse NY, where he will happily buy you a round.