Those lucky few of you who care neither about the political blogosphere nor about cable TV news analysis probably don't know that Chris Hayes is getting pilloried, and may even lose his job, for stumbling over the same tripwire that cost Bill Maher his original TV show, "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher." Over the weekend, in a panel discussion on the subject of Memorial Day, Hayes implied that not all American soldiers are heroes.
For this, he obviously must die. If you think so? Come and get me, then, too, or maybe even before you get around to him. He's a more visible target but I'll go farther than the did. I think that every American who volunteers, and then fights to protect their country, is a hero. But with a handful of possible exceptions, like the first wave of troops into Afghanistan at the end of 2001, I don't think that applies to any American since 1945.
I think those who served in peacetime aren't heroes. I think they're ordinary people who signed up for the only jobs program that Republicans and right-wing Democrats will let us have. (Look up "military Keyensianism.") That's nothing to be ashamed of; my own grandfather was, as I've famously said, a WPA alumnus. But at least the WPA built things that we can use; all our peacetime soldiers have done was stay alive at taxpayer expense. That's better than not doing so, but nothing to be especially proud of.
And those that served in Korea, preventing the Korean people from voting for the government they wanted to elect? Those who served in Vietnam, doing the same thing? Those who served up and down Latin America, defending a tiny rich white minority in those countries and their right to own the rest of the country as slaves? Those who went to the Balkans to put Islamists in power in Kosovo and neo-Nazis in power in Croatia? Those who screwed up the mission in Somalia, thus teaching bin Laden that Americans were pushovers? Those who went into Iraq to install what was supposed to be a pro-American regime, and ended up handing that country to Hezbollah? And all of that at the cost of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of civilian lives in those countries over the last sixty years? I don't think that makes them heroes. I think it makes them dupes at best, and willing accomplices to war crimes at worst. No, I'm not even vaguely proud of your service. No, I'm not even vaguely grateful for it. I am, depending on which atrocity you served in, to varying degrees ashamed of your service. I'm just generally too polite to say so to your face.
Come and get me.
Look, that wasn't even the point that Chris Hayes was making, and if you read or listen to the whole piece, it's not hard to tell that. Chris Hayes is making the entirely valid point that, frankly, the people who most aggressively police the boundaries of "heroism," the ones who most loudly bully the rest of us into calling all soldiers heroes, are, not coincidentally, usually, outright militarists. Frequently, they're worse than that, they're some kind of nativist white supremacist; a large, visible minority of militarists think that what makes you a hero when you sign up for American military service is precisely that you're keeping all those brown people under the white guy's thumb where they belong. Not a few of them wander right up to the border of fascism. And the chest-thumpers and the flag-wavers that come out every Memorial Day to bully the rest of us into cheering all troops think that those of us who oppose imperialism, who oppose militarization, are the problem, not the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in their own midst.
And, ashamed as he is to say it, even though he's a borderline militarist himself, Hayes is as uncomfortable with the imperialists and the white supremacists who are constantly cheerleading for more US wars so we can make more heroes by conquering more and more brown people and making them do what we want, as he is with people like me.
And if the right wing gets their way, expressing that discomfort in public is going to cost him his career. Because that's the kind of country we are, now: expressing discomfort with anything that you think looks like it might be a slide towards fascist militarism is just plain unacceptable for a public figure. We are still fighting the Spanish Civil War, here in America, and right now, here in America, Generalissimo Franco (and his backers) are winning.