aNewDomain — A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an essay for BreakingModern about the Brian Williams scandal, and how it reflects the sick cult of militarism that has ruled America and its media since 9/11. “You can tell a lot about a society’s values from its lies,” I said.
Williams’ attempt to portray himself as some kind of bad-ass journo-soldier was preceded by Hillary Clinton’s false claim of dodging enemy fire in Bosnia and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal’s lie that he had served in Vietnam.
Now two more public figures are being accused of ginning up accounts of courage in war zones.
FOXNews host Bill O’Reilly is fending off charges that he repeatedly bragged about dodging bullets during the Falklands war though he never came close to the war zone, having been confined by Argentine authorities to the capital of Buenos Aires. He is attempting to defend himself by saying he was caught in a riot there, where he was shot at by police or soldiers, but most of his fellow CBS veterans remember it differently. (Update 2.26.15: Bill O’Reilly’s colleagues from “Inside Edition” tell journalists that O’Reilly also claimed he was “under an avalanche of bricks and concrete” during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Truth was, they say, he arrived in a smoldering neighborhood in a limo and cops booted him and crew from the scene …”)
O’Reilly, characteristically aggressive, threatened a reporter for the New York Times that he would retaliate if they weren’t fair to him: “I am coming after you with everything I have,” he said. “You can take it as a threat.”
Disclosure: I have appeared several times on “The O’Reilly Factor.” A statement by one of O’Reilly’s accusers sums up my experience: “Nobody gets a fair shake. just wants to beat them up, call them names.” I didn’t care about that, but I’m still annoyed about the fact that, when I went on his show at the beginning of the occupation of Afghanistan to predict that the war would go badly for the United States, he promised on the air — after mocking me and questioning my patriotism — to have me back later to see who was right.
I sure would have liked to have performed my little victory dance.
And now there is another apparent case of an armchair warrior pretending to have served in the military: US Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert MacDonald. He apologized yesterday for saying that he had served in the Army’s elite Special Forces.
In fact, MacDonald graduated from West Point in 1975 and served in the 82nd Airborne Division – hardly the resume of a wimpy pacifist unqualified to attempt to unravel the hot mess that his department has become.
As I wrote about Brian Williams, the O’Reilly and MacDonald cases tell us a lot more about contemporary American culture and the cult of militarism than they do about these two guys.
If it matters, Williams has been in harm’s way in war zones. O’Reilly has an enviable career as a successful TV and radio host, best-selling author and yes, a prehistory as a real journalist.
MacDonald really was a soldier, if not the exact kind of bad-ass super trooper he was compelled to present himself as.
The point is, why do these people, who are incredibly accomplished professionally and in some cases have demonstrated real courage under fire, feel tempted to puff themselves up in this particular way?
We have developed a martial culture to the exclusion of all else. You don’t see teachers thanked for their service on television – hell, you don’t really see teachers on television much at all. Nor nurses. Nor musicians. Nor playwrights. Nor artists. In the United States in 2015, the way that you get people to show you deference is to claim to have fought in one of America’s many optional wars of aggression or, failing that, to have gotten caught in the line of fire as a journalist, or perhaps a former hostage.
If you don’t see that there is something terribly wrong with that, odds are you are either part of the problem or one of its victims.