Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Collateral Damage

First, we'll dispense with the obvious: Chris Hayes is an ass, one of those smug, snarky left-wing pundits that populate the airwaves at MSNBC and the pages of the Huffington Post.  As you've probably heard, Mr. Hayes got in a bit of trouble last week during a panel discussion on(you guessed, it, MSNBC) with the following observation on the nation's war dead:

I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Um, and, ah, ah, why do I feel so comfortable [sic] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable, ah, uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

Hayes quickly discovered just how wrong he was.  Outraged veterans sent hundreds of e-mails to the network, and the national commander of the VFW demanded an apology.  Predictably, the pundit was forced to back-track, expressing regret for his comments on Monday.

Case closed?  Almost.  Unfortunately, in the rush to lambaste Hayes, at least one conservative managed to make himself look foolish--like the out-of-touch crowd at MSNBC, or The New Republic.  We refer to a poster named Don King at otherwise-excellent Flopping Aces.  Before tearing into Hayes, Mr. King offers his own military connections:

I come from a family with a proud military history. My father was a Leatherneck in WWII, seeing heavy action in the South Pacific. He was in the invasion of Okinawa and stood awestruck one August morning when he saw that mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.    

Just a couple of problems with that narrative.  First, the battle for Okinawa ended in June, almost two months before the bombing of Hiroshima.  By that time, most of the Marines had been redeployed to training sites across the Pacific, to prepare for the expected invasion of Japan.  Based on those realities, it's highly unlikely that Mr. King's father was still on the island when the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Secondly, if the elder King was on Okinawa--and saw that mushroom cloud--he probably had the best set of eyeballs in the history of the Marine Corps. Hiroshima, located on the western end of Honshu, is more than 600 miles from Okinawa.  Additionally, the mushroom cloud from Little Boy, the weapon used against Hiroshima, reached an altitude of 45,000 feet above the city.  Considering the distance between Okinawa and Hiroshima; the height of the cloud, curvature of the earth and other factors, it would be impossible to see the tell-tale cloud from Okinawa.

In fact, the only Americans who witnessed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the ground, were Allied POWs, being detained in or near those cities.  According to various accounts, as many as 20 American airmen were being held at a police headquarters in the heart of Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped; most were crew members from two B-24s and a Navy dive bomber that had been shot down during raids in southern Japan.  Among the B-24 crew members, only two survived.

Fate was kinder to an America POW who was in Nagasaki when the second atomic bomb was dropped.  Joe Kieyoomia was a Navajo from New Mexico who had been captured during the fall of the Philippines in April 1942.  He survived the nightmares of the Bataan Death March; internment in the infamous Cabanatuan POW camp (where scores of Americans perished each month); the "hell ships" that carried him to another prison in Japan, and finally, the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.  Somehow, the concrete walls of his cell shielded Kieyoomia from the blast and he survived.

We owe an eternal debt to men like the B-24 crew members; those who perished in the hell ships and all those who gave their lives in defense of this nation.  All are heroes by any definition, even if twits like Chris Hayes disagree and some on our side see a reason to embellish their stories of service and sacrifice.

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