Why Aren't There Any Heroes in this War?

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Mr. Marina is Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University, a Research Fellow of the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA, and Exec. Dir. of the Marina-Huerta Educational Foundation. He lives in Asheville, NC.

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The Sunday New York Times, August 7, 2005, carried a story by Damien Cave entitled,"Where are the War Heroes?" The intervention in Iraq, as in other American wars, has produced its share of heroic acts by both men and women. What is different is the way in which the political establishment chooses to handle these acts, much to the"discouragement" of many in the military.

Unlike the declared war in 1941, our numerous interventions since then, now proclaimed as"preemptive" strikes against non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction, have drawn protests and divided the nation. Publicizing heroes means calling attention to the horrors of war. All of this is creating something of a legitimacy crisis for the Empire, and the whole mode of counterinsurgency warfare. Some military critics of the war such as William E. Lind, have tried to square the circle by attempting to develop what they have termed"Fourth Generation Warfare," a sort of"kinder, gentler" Counterinsurgency Imperialist Interventionism.

The Times's picture of Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier in World War II, reminded me of my friend and coauthor, Nathaniel Weyl, who died several months ago at the age of 94 (see the NYT Obit for May 8). To some extent, Nathaniel helped originate the legend of Audie Murphy. He is most remembered, of course, for his role in revealing Alger Hiss as a Communist, and for his book, Red Star Over Cuba (1960).

One day as we were working together on American Statesmen on Slavery and the Negro (1971), later selected by Choice, the library journal, as one of the outstanding history books of that year (Lew Rockwell was our editor), Nate showed me a clipping of an article from a Seattle newspaper written by an old WWII buddy turned columnist. As Nate's literary executor, I have searched for that piece, but conclude that if he kept it, it is among those papers he donated to the Hoover Institution some years ago.

The writer described Cpl. Weyl, scrawny, with helmet askew, as one of the most unlikely looking soldiers in the American Army. Nate had resigned his position as an economist in the Federal government to join the Army. His job was to write up the commendations for the medals given to the combat soldiers in the Third Division of General George S. Patton's, Third Army.

One day, his superior, a Major Blossom (sp.?) in one of those large PR units, well described by Cave's article, called Nate to his office."Weyl," he said,"as you are aware, we are the most decorated Division in the Third Army, and it is the most decorated among all of America's fighting forces. Only one thing is missing. We must also have the most decorated soldier! He, must, however, be legitimate! Your job is to find him."

As Nate dug through all of the records of heroism, many of which he had written up, two outstanding candidates emerged, whom he then interviewed. The first was a Captain, who was daring, but rather, in Nate's assessment, seemed to enjoy war and killing. The problem was eliminated when the officer was killed in action, as Nate had imagined might occur.

That left a young enlisted man from Texas. Well, as we now know, it never hurts the cause of a real hero to have a good wordsmith writing up your commendations.

In fact, Nate told me Audie was quite modest about it all. In the film, To Hell and Back, he is shown for a short time out on a burning tank, filled with fuel, while in reality it was for a much longer time, with his buddies urging him to get off. Murph became a heck of a recruiter for the Army after he was wounded.

The contrast with Vietnam and today is stark. I recall in 1966 taking a Air Force recruiter to lunch. His table had been very much ignored by the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) students. I told him I had led protests against our intervention there, but that I understood his situation, and wanted to learn what I could about what was really going on in 'Nam.

After a couple of beers, he seemed to come emotionally unglued. I have no reason to doubt what he said was true. It seems he was the only survivor from a squadron ordered to take out a bridge on orders of LBJ because it had been built by the French with Marshall Plan funds. Flying into that river valley meant facing thousands of rifles firing from the banks as the Vietnamese came to understand our intentions. The Air Force did not succeed in that mission.

I was left wondering, did the Air Force have any inkling of the feelings of this young pilot sent out as a recruiter? What if, I had been an FAU student wondering about joining up?

Recruitment has become a real problem for the Empire these days, as the deceptions, going back many years now, are creating a growing crisis, in an American legitimacy, once believed by a great majority of our nation, and which was the real source of a once real American power. Gone are the days of heroic recruiters like Audie. And, it certainly didn't hurt that Audie's trip into Hell was written up by what I would suggest was the"best damn medal writer in the American Army," my friend, Nathaniel Weyl.

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Oscar Chamberlain - 8/12/2005

AS many of the proponents of our intervention in Iraq argue that we are an empire--albeit in their eyes a benign one--it is perfectly reasonable for an opponent to assert that we are an empire.

Owen Roberts - 8/10/2005

There are real heroes fighting for us, or standing ready to do so, in Iraq and elsewhere. Much of the mainstream media, including the NY Times, may not cover them very much; but if you want to know about them, you can find coverage. Michael Yon is particularly good: http://michaelyon.blogspot.com/ BlackFive is another good source: http://www.blackfive.net/main/

All the heroes, as well as the American servicemen who might not come up to what many would call hero status, deserve our thanks and prayers.

James Spence - 8/10/2005

It’s good to see someone on this site has an understanding about American Imperialism/Empire.

No one should have to be an historian to understand this concept.

A helpful article about I and E can be found at: http://slate.msn.com/?id=2075261

Michael Barnes Thomin - 8/9/2005

From The New American Webster Dictionary:

imperialism (im·pe·ri·al·ism) n. the policy of expanding national territory.

The U.S. government systematically expanded its national territory into lands already inhabited by an indigenous population. With that said, it is true that there were many forms and policy practices throughout this long history of expanding its national territory with the Native Americans (Northwest Ordinance, Removal Act of 1830, Dawes Act of 1887, Indian Organizational Act of 1934, Termination, etc.) depending on a vast amount of conditions, such as the particular administration of the time period (Jefferson's and Knox's policies attempted to take native population in the East and convert them into white farmers, which differed from Jackson's policies with most notably the Removal Act of 1830 passed by Congress to remove tribes east of Mississippi into "Indian country"), tribal alliances, national emergencies such as war, political atmosphere, and so on. It is a complex history with several different players involved. Nonetheless, the ultimate goal of all the U.S. administrations was no doubt to expand its national territory, especially when territory formerly promised to Native Americans was later discovered to contain large quantities of what Black Elk called “yellow metal” (gold). I am not suggesting that the U.S. government was necessarily evil for these actions. There were atrocities committed on both sides, against the natives as well as against settlers, although it is important to note that in most cases it was due to settlers incroaching on tribal lands that the U.S. government had a very hard time preventing from taking place, although they did try to some degree. However, in short, to call the U.S. government’s expansion of its national territory imperialism, especially from the years 1866-1890 out West, is completely acceptable. In fact, it is the very definition of the word.


Edward Siegler - 8/9/2005

I'm sure you're aware that the indians were conquered and herded into reservations. The western US did not become a colony of the east. This is why the term "imperialism" doesn't apply here.

Bob Aho - 8/8/2005

Interesting... I guess the Lakota et al simply "incorporated." Did they use Delaware as the state for the legal and economic benefits?
BTW- I'm aware of the political situation on Sicily circa 430 BCE. Agreed there was no single leader rather a number of petty "tyrants." I was pointing out Thucydides observations that the propagandists before the war told the population the Athenians would be welcomed as liberators when the opposite was true.
I shan't bother to respond any longer since your modus operandi is to read to refute rather than understand. It is a sisyphean task that I rather not engage. If all these articles are so full of holes and inaccuracies why bother to read them at all?

Edward Siegler - 8/8/2005

Or he could join Iraq's "resistance" and fight against the "imperialists" and their "stooges" in Baghdad.

Edward Siegler - 8/8/2005

Since when has the Western US been an imperial holding? The west was incorporated into the United States as Hawaii was. This is territorial expansion, which is not the same as imperialism. The US went through an imperial episode in the late 19th century during the war with Spain and the conquest of the Phillipines, but reluctantly and with strong reservations, not "gladly" as you state.

Sicily was a very similar kind of democracy to Athens at the time of the Athenian invasion. This war doesn't compare at all with Iraq. Who was the Saddam Hussein of Sicily? When was Athen's Gulf War with Sicily that preceeded its invasion?

You're the one with an unconvincing rebuttal and tenuous linkages. Forget about "crafting prose" and learn some historical facts if you hope to be taken seriously.

Lynn Bryan Schwartz - 8/8/2005

I am unclear about Dr. Marina's repeated reference to "the Empire." Perhaps, he is confusing reality with a movie. Dr. Marina's obscenely bias argument does no justice to one who is Professor Emeritus. Reasoned argument that makes some attempt at objectivity should be the order of the day for the good doctor. Anyway, there are many heroes in this war...if you care to find them. Just because certain media who are critical of the war don't mention them does not mean they don't exist.
If Dr. Marina wants to strike a blow against "the Empire," I suggest he lead a group of resistence fighters to the forest planet of Endor. I hear the Empire has their shield generator there.

Bob Aho - 8/8/2005

The Greeks are famous for describing their heroes for what they were, men who had great attributes but also possesing as great flaws. We have few heroes today because we simply cannot tolerate flaws of any kind in our "heroes." The example of the captain who enjoyed the mayhem of war points that out quite sharply.
I disagree that imperialism is a hop skip and jump away from the Nazi past. Imperialists had a sense of superiority tempered by a sense of obligation. The whole age of imperialism (which the US of A gladly joined - how the west was won was a imperialist adventure) was based on the idea that we know better and we can make their life better too. Given that one of the many aims of our incursion into Iraq is to "spread democracy," linking that our imperialist past is not all that much of a stretch. BTW - The Greeks suffered the from the same delusions. The Athenian invasion of Sicily compares quite nicely with our Iraq adventure.
On the other hand, the Nazi's had no such inhibition. They believed they were superior in every way shape and form.
I suggest you learn to craft cogent and insightful prose before resorting to ad hominem attacks and tenuous linkages. Your rebuttal to his article is unconvincing.

Edward Siegler - 8/8/2005

Thank you for your response.

1) I don't doubt that there can be heros in unjust wars, but the celebration of heroism, contrary to what you wrote, does typically ignore the horror of war. The air combat heros of World War II, for example, were never celebrated by highlighting the deaths of civilians that occured below.

2) I don't know of any "declared" wars since World War II. Does this make every war fought since illegal in your view?

3) I figured as much, but it wasn't entirely clear.

4) John Quincy Adams wrote in first half of the 19th century that America should not go out and slay monsters. Does this make World War II a betryal of the American Revolution? What's your point?

5) It's getting hard to ignore the constant references to "American Imperialism" without responding. Historical distortions like these are useless, but unfortunately widely disseminated.

William Marina - 8/8/2005

Dear Mr. Siegler,
Thank you for your kind note
1. A soldier can be a hero even in an unjust war with which he may disagree, in, for example, saving the lives of others.
2. I was not attempting to glorify WWII, but to point out it was at least legal in the sense of a declaration of war.
3. The "now" referred to Iraq, not Korea, etc.
4. This country's betrayal of the republican principles of the American Revolution seemed evident to the great American historian, Mercy Otis Warren, as early as 1805.
5. Sorry you took the time to reply to such a "useless" article!
Bill Marina

Edward Siegler - 8/8/2005

Why aren't there any heroes in this war? Because like Marina, much of the world depicts the war as exercize in "imperialism", which is a hop skip and a jump away from nazism. How can an "imperialist" war be a just one? It can't. Ergo, no heroes.

What's pathetic is Marina's attempt to glorify World War II as a rhetorical counterpoint to Iraq. We are reminded that World War II was a "declared" war (implying a moral superiority to the current war) while the congressional authorization to use force against Iraq and the declaration of war against terrorism are ignored.

Sloppy writing and thinking are on display here. Marina writes "our numerous interventions since then (1941), now proclaimed as 'preemtive' strikes against non-existent WMDs..." Was the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and Afghan wars interventions for WMDs? Of course not. But somehow these events can't measure up to the morality of the Second World War in Marina's mind so they can safely be lumped together.

Marina is another believer in the mythical age of widespread America-love. Look around the world at places like Latin America, China, the now defunct Communist block or even the "non-aligned" nations like India and you will see that America's relations with the world are no worse, and in many cases much better then they were during the cold war. By relentlessly equating America's actions with the bloody imperialism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Marina is only contributing to what he believes is a crisis in American legitimacy. What a useless article.

William Marina - 8/8/2005

A press release from the DOD, sometimes falsified, as with the capture of a female soldier early in the war, or the omission of Pat Tillman being killed by "friendly fire," is not the same as the commendations I was writing about.
One can also, of course, view the pictures each night on "Jim Lehrer," of our dead soldiers.
The NYT does not deny there are heroes, but rather the way in which the Bush adm. handles all of this. It is clear, that many in the military, take my view about the way in which this is being done.
Course, Bush is more toward the "coward" end of the spectrum, than that of a hero.
Given your mentality, you are quite consistent to share his views.

Al Johnson - 8/8/2005

Maybe if you took a second from reading the garbage in the NYT and tried reading the DOD press releases, you'd find that theree are plenty of heros.