Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Unleashing the H-Bomb

Not timeless, but still, I hope, timely. This column originally ran on July 25th. It was in response to a column by The Tribune's Paul Green, who argued that Kerry talking about his military service all the time was just what Hitler used to do; I thought that was a bit much. This column was written back in the misty distant days of July, when people weren't criticizing Kerry's military service. Now, of course, we've managed to breach that wall as well. The nerve of anybody, as Andy Borowitz noted, deciding to enlist in the Navy during the Vietnam War to avoid serving in the Alabama National Guard!

Neither Green's original column nor mine are available on the web anymore.

Even if you don't want to read the entire column, you really should read the last paragraph for the punch line. Thanks to B. in Denver for the idea. I did get one upset letter from a reader who didn't understand the point of the joke, and I had to email her to explain that the point of a joke is the joke. Don't get me started.

Crossing Swords over Service

East Valley Tribune, July 25, 2004

Last week, The Tribune's Paul Green declared himself the Miss Manners of permissible military memory. Green, who served in the military here in the U.S., decided exactly how much a Vietnam veteran running for public office should discuss of his or her service in that war. If you're John Kerry, Green believes any mention is one mention too many. According to Green's standards of etiquette, because Kerry talks about his military experiences more than Green deems appropriate, Kerry's not just a boor, he's pathological.

Green deployed three seamy rhetorical tactics against Kerry. First, contrary to Green, Kerry actually doesn't talk about his military record all that much -- and surely not much more than Bob Dole's campaign discussed his WWII service during the 1996 campaign. Other surrogates discuss Kerry's Vietnam service more often than Kerry himself. Actually, that's a problem for the Kerry campaign; others (John Edwards, Max Cleland) talk about John Kerry far more colorfully than John Kerry himself can.

Second, forget civility; too many people can't discuss their political opponents without attacking either the opponents' sanity or patriotism. Put Paul Green squarely in that camp. Green doesn't think it's enough to oppose Kerry's position on this issue or that program, or even to mock his personal foibles humorously. Instead, Green finds it necessary to slur Kerry as a flawed, if not worthless, if not deviant personality (note especially Green's "lack of manhood" insinuations). And if you don't agree with me on this point, then you obviously hate America.

Third, it's not enough for Green to say that Kerry talks about his military service too much. Green misuses the writings of military historian John Keegan, who posited several different styles of military leadership. In one style, the leader personalizes the national war aims, using his own personal service as both spur and bludgeon. Keegan put Hitler -- and numerous others, but naturally Hitler was the one chosen by Green for his incendiary column -- in that category. Therefore, because Green says Kerry talks more than Green would like about past military service, Green says Kerry is just like Hitler.

You might think that there might be more required to trot out the Hitler analogy than a political candidate's references to his own military service. You might think that with the Bush campaign regularly going ballistic about some anonymous person not affiliated with the Kerry campaign using the Hitler analogy (but not ballistic enough to resist then running their own web ad linking Hitler and Kerry), that Bush supporters like Green might not wallow in the hypocrisy of making such remote and random Hitler analogies. But you'd be wrong.

If John Kerry, or all Democrats, have to apologize because somebody (we still don't know who) submitted a homemade ad that linked Bush to Hitler to a MoveOn.org contest, then shouldn't George Bush and all Republicans have to apologize for Green's casual and totally unnecessary use of the Hitler analogy? Don't hold your breath waiting for the apology.

In the Paul Green parallel universe, Kerry talking about what he actually did in the Navy, or his medals for courage and military service -- that's a personal failing. When Bush dressed up in a flight suit and landed on that carrier, underneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner, pretending to do what Kerry actually did -- hey, that's just fine.

See, Republicans can make Hitler analogies with impunity. It's just part of their birthright or something. But let any Democrat anywhere make a Hitler analogy and every Democrat everywhere needs to apologize.

It's a crazy world. Men having sex with men requires a constitutional amendment. Women having sex with women sells a lot of beer. Go figure.

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