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Monday, August 26, 2013
When David Petraeus started his new job as director of the CIA, his new colleagues said don’t wear your uniform replete with medals and fruit cocktail bars to work; those medals are only relevant in a military environment. He took their advice. This advice didn’t flow down to Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the embattled National Security Agency, who wears his uniform with chest candy prominently displayed whenever he gets the chance. It’s as if he wants us to forget what he really is doing and focus on all the medals he has accumulated.
I use the word accumulated because all the ones Alexander wears, and today’s generals wear, were bestowed by fellow officers in recognition of being here and there, having done this and that, but seldom having to do with valor or combat. In fact, the Military Times runs a regular column called “Hall of Stolen Valor” documenting all those who fudge having real medals. The proliferation of medals cheapens the ones that ordinary soldiers earn.
The Los Angeles Times in its 2008 article “Petraeus’ ‘ribbon creep’ ” put it this way, “Brazen preening and ribbon creep among the military’s upper crust have trumped the time honored military virtues of humility, duty and personal service. U.S. Grant accepted Robert E. Lee’s sword in disheveled Union blue and boots, and Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall wore single rows of ribbons.”
Marshall’s museum is at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, as are hundreds of graves of officers who died in the Civil War leading troops.
So when I see a general or other high-ranking military man wearing his medals in a civilian setting, it depreciates the value and valor of the individual grunts who earned medals fighting and dying in a war. Retired Army Col. David Hackworth was the most scathing critic of “medal fatigue.” In a 2004 article posted to nbcnews.com, Hackworth said, “In World War II, when I saw a Distinguished Flying Cross that meant a guy had made 25 or 30 missions over dangerous places like Hamburg or Berlin. Now they give medals out to guys that fly bombers invisible to radar whose bombs missed Saddam Hussein and killed 16 civilians in a restaurant. It’s an outrage.”
Medals are given out now as a means to promote wars. According to Hackworth, “In Vietnam, a dog was awarded a bronze star, and in Grenada more medals were handed out than there were soldiers fighting. In Operation Desert Storm, infantry battalions that never saw action were awarded the coveted CAB [close action badge].”
Petraeus was pretty shameless in acquiring the Bronze Star, which surprised the editor of Military.com upon learning that Petraeus was never anywhere near the fighting. This was first documented by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Rick Atkinson in his book “In the Company of Soldiers.”
The Daily Kos, which tracks the military, also wondered in 2007 how Petraeus, who never discharged his weapons against enemy forces, never rescued anyone physically in battle, could have won a Bronze Star with a “V” for valor. The Bronze Star is usually given to the soldiers who are fighting in the heat of battle, not to officers who don’t see any action. It’s a medal that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower didn’t receive in leading Allied troops during World War II.
Or compare this to the officers who died in the battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, where, the author of the best seller “Gettysburg” writes, “officers charged forward with swords outthrust from the shoulder.” Of Robert E. Lee’s 52 generals fighting at Gettysburg, a third of them were casualties.
The Los Angeles Times in its article on Petraeus concluded: “Memo to Petraeus: When you’re making the case for more patriotic gore go easy on the glitter.”
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