The taint on Sgt. Smith’s Medal of Honor

WASHINGTON – Two years to the day after Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith was killed defending his unit from an enemy attack near the Baghdad airport, President Bush on Monday presented his family the first Medal of Honor awarded in more than a decade.

As you’ve probably noticed, the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Smith has been pretty big news in the past few days. There was something about it that bothered me, though, and up until last night I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But then it hit me.

The problem is one of credibility – not the credibility of a fallen hero, but that of the people bestowing the award – and it has put people like me, people who think about what the government does and what they see on television, in an awkward position.

From what I can tell, Sgt. Smith died as every bit the bonafide American war hero he’s been made out to be (see myths_americana‘s post here, where he notes that “[t]he military heroism of Sgt. Smith was incontestable and has been recited too often for repetition her”). Right. Smith seems not to be one of our newfangled PC everybody-gets-a-gold-star-just-for-showing-up heroes. You may have noted how these days everybody who dies becomes a hero. Remember the aftermath of 9/11? All the people killed that day were heroes. The problem is that when you use the word this way, you destroy its meaning. What’s the difference between “hero” and “victim,” you know?

But I knew Bush was awarding Smith the MoH before I knew the details, and sadly, my instinctive, gut-level reaction was to balk. My first thought wasn’t “he must have been a real hero,” it was “what is the administration up to this time?” Was this a cynical, unwarranted, partisan knee-jerk on my part? Well, some will see it that way no matter what I say. But the truth is that I feel pretty badly about it. This man laid down his life to save his fellow soldiers, and whether I like the war in Iraq or not, there is no arguing that he willingly made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country.

To some degree – and this I can’t pretend to quantify – Smith’s day was cheapened by this administration’s ongoing campaign to spin the American people regardless of the facts, regardless of the truth, regardless of any kind of moral or ethical prinicples regarding the process, propriety, and responsibility attending official state communications. When we can no longer tell the difference between the State interest and the Party interest, we have become the Soviet machine we worked so hard to defeat.

Why? Because this administration has used that term “hero” before. Remember Jessica Lynch? Jessica was no doubt an earnest and dedicated soldier, but her heroism mainly consisted of getting lost and captured. Yet Bush and the administration’s media apparatchiks dressed the story up so that she looked like Patton and Mother Teresa rolled into one. Suddenly, those of us who think as a matter of course had cause to wonder whether we could trust the word “hero” in the mouths of our leaders.

You only have to cry wolf once, but Bush and Co. semingly never miss a chance to weave their mythology, regardless of the authenticity of the core facts from which it is being woven. So I heard “Sgt. Smith, Hero” and reflexively flinched, wondering if the truth would turn out to be more like Sgt. York or Pvt. Lynch.

In the end, this one appears more than legit (although I defer to Dr. Lawrence at myths_americana on other, deeper questions). But I’m profoundly saddened that I live in an age where my president can say “this man is a hero” and I can’t trust it without doing a little research, just to be sure.

I can apologize for my cynicism, but I can’t shoulder all the blame for it.


6 thoughts on “The taint on Sgt. Smith’s Medal of Honor

  1. I agree with you 100%, but your hatred of this current administration has allowed you to forget that this spin goes on in EVERY administratrion. I was not fond of the previous administration, but realized that their spin was no different than the spin going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt. There is no use in complaining about it as there’s another 3.75 years left of W’s term. I used to despise Clinton and found the best way for me to stomach his lack of principles was to just hunker down and wait for it to be over. I hope you will do the same, otherwise, you’ll go nuts like I almost did.

  2. I was responsible for heaping my share of abuse on Clinton/Gore, and have said for the record I’m not sure it’s possible for a moral human to get anywhere close to the presidency anymore. So I don’t kid myself about presidents and pols in general.
    That said, I think it’s always possible to be worse, and I think this crew represents a low-water mark. They’re more corrupt than the pack of jackals who ran the Nixon White House, for instance, and they’re less competent, arguably, than the Carter aministration.
    Or at least it seems that way. Give me another 25 years of steady descent and I might be looking back on these yahoos as comparative paragons of virtue….

  3. Come on, There was no one, including Nixon, or LBJ, or JFK, who was worse than Carter. Carter represented a new low in the century. He has done a remarkable job of rehabiliting himself since he’s been out of office. The only thing I don’t like that both Carter and Clinton have done, is violating the gentleman’s agreement of “no comments” that have existed between ex-presidents and current presidents. That’s plain wrong.

  4. Depends on what you mean with Carter. I think he was just a terrible president, but at the same time I think he was the most innately moral man to hold office in my lifetime. Which, if true, indicates that morality is certainly not a qualification for the job. Nixon was very effective, especially on foreign policy, despite a moral character that would make an alley cat blush.
    You have to remember that Carter is about the only politician that Hunter Thompson ever had anything nice to say about. I’m not paid to be his apologist, and I know that some don’t agree with me on his presidential abilities.
    In any event, it’s worth noting that the discussion centers on who this administration is worse than. So far nobody’s using words like “Rushmore”…. 🙂

  5. With Carter, at least the peanut growers and processers got rich. His personal morals have been the subject of much scrutiny and he gets a C+ in my book. He has just played the God Card so effectively that everyone automatically assumes him to have high morals. One could also say that Jerry Fawell has high morals…. and I wouldn’t lay odds on that either.

  6. As you’ve probably noticed, the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Smith has been pretty big news in the past few days. There was something about it that bothered me, though, and up until last night I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
    Now, me, I was struck by something quite different. My first thought was, “Oh look! A decorated hero of the Iraq War who can’t talk back. Who can’t ever criticize the current regime’s policies. Who can never say anything negative or otherwise embarrassing regarding this war.”

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