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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
13 Feb 2016
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The undisputed front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who, like every other remaining … Read More.

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“Only a Fool or a Fraud Could Sentimentalize War's Cruel Reality”


The death of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, following the voluntary return to private life of Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., along with the expected confirmation as secretary of state of Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., means that three of the four men whose combat wounds in war won each of them a Purple Heart will have left the Senate. The lone Purple Heart recipient remaining will be Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

With fewer and fewer members of Congress having had any personal exposure to military service, it is difficult to imagine when any state will ever again be served simultaneously by two U.S. senators who, between them, had earned one Medal of Honor and three Purple Hearts. That was Nebraska's distinction between 1997 and 2001, when two Vietnam War veterans, Democrat Bob Kerrey (Medal of Honor and one Purple Heart) and Republican Chuck Hagel (two Purple Hearts) represented the Cornhusker State in the Senate.

Now, 12 years later, Washington's high offices and its press rooms are full of swaggering men for whom war is not fear and pain and suffering, but rather one policy option, even an abstraction. Too few now in positions of influence have heard or understood the earlier words of John McCain: "War is awful. Nothing, not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality. Whatever is won in war, it is the loss the veteran remembers."

Of the 58,213 Americans who died In Vietnam, three out of four of them were under the age of 23, and three out of four of those Americans were enlisted personnel — privates and sergeants — and not officers. Twenty-one-year-old Chuck Hagel, two years older than his brother Tom, who served next to him in the same Army infantry unit in the Mekong Delta, nearly died when shrapnel from a landmine that had killed the soldier in front of him ripped into Chuck's chest.

Only Tom Hagel's heroic intervention stopped the near-fatal gushing of blood. Just weeks later, Chuck was able to pull his severely wounded brother Tom (three Purple Hearts earned) from a burning personnel carrier.

What makes this especially relevant today is that pro-business Republicans, in whose ranks Chuck Hagel's Senate voting record and success in the private sector would place him, are forever criticizing some Democratic adversary for lacking real-life experience, for "never having met a payroll."

Well, when it comes to the reality of war, Chuck Hagel, nominated by the president to be secretary of defense, has more than 'met a payroll.' He has had both real-life and real-death experience.

Hagel has seen fellow Americans ripped in half by landmines. He has spilled his own blood and that of his adversaries. Through it all, he came to a painfully personal and personally painful conclusion: "There is no glory in war, only suffering."

Hagel has spoken of "the powerful responsibility of our nation's stewards to make policy worthy of those who serve and die. War is not an abstraction. It is brutal and is always accompanied by the portends of dangerous, unintended consequences, uncontrollables and unpredictables."

Like fellow Vietnam combat veterans Colin Powell and former Marine Corps Commandant Jim Jones — both of whom back his nomination to be defense secretary — and unlike the think-tank commandos who have carefully avoided any personal risk of real-life service, Chuck Hagel reluctantly sees war only as a last resort and for the cruel reality it is. Which indeed is a strong recommendation for a U.S. secretary of defense in 2013.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




2 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... There is all sorts of courage, but only one form of cowardice, and it runs through many lives from root to flower...I was once brave, but who can count on that... People can defend their virtue against a thousand vices, but when the price is right they are bought as if forever sold... I like that sort of supernatural courage in the character of Huck Finn, deciding he was going to hell for helping his friend rather than doing what was morally correct in the eyes of his community...
The early history of this area illustrates the notion of ethics as character...There are accounts of natives being half cut up, cooked, and eaten before being all the way dead, and hanging in there to the end, inviting abuse, meeting each new assault on their bodies with a grunt, or a groan, singing their death songs; and the reason they did so was simple... Those captives stood for their communities, which is ethical, and you see the sense of the word in: Ethnic... To show their people weak would have been unethical because it invited attack upon them; but to stand firm, showing themselve strong showed their people strong, and reminded all of the horrors of war, and that they, if caught, would get as good as they gave...
The most unethical quality of our demoralized society is the willingness of people in our government to have others suffer as they would not, to risk death as they would not, and to have to face death when they should not...
Mr. Hegel is a man in my estimation... A man is the last thing those spineless worms in congress want to deal with... It is obvious that many of them are much in the pay of, or in obligation to- Israel...It is not simply that those people in congress have forgotten Mr. Hegel's Courage; but that they have forgotten their own...
I used to forget my strength during a long layoff... I would get a job, and find myself hunting up a piece of iron to be put in by hand, and it would look huge...It's only a twelve foot I beam, twenty pound to the foot...I'eee think I better get some help... A few weeks later I would just toss it on my shoulder, and walk off with it, and maybe even climb a few floors...
No body knows at any given time what weight they can bear, but the process of life teaches many, that it is more than they ever thought they could stand...Those who never try their moral strength recoil, and retreat at every opportunity, and they are jealous of anyone who shows strength...
The Congress will often do what they are paid to do, what it pays to do, either in votes or in the money to influence voters; but if it comes to making a stand, include them out...
We have to consider that it is not simply the want of courage that makes one order another to certain death while they sit easy...I really think you could define many people in government and the military as sociopathic.. They are self centered, love the activity and excitement, but are disconnected emotionally, from their own pain and from the pain of others... I look at Lincoln as the strangest collection of attributes of any man who was president... He once scolded some school mates for heaping coals on the backs of terrapins to free them from their shells by saying that an ant had as much regard for his life as they had for theirs... Yet, this man, even with regrets, ordered many to die, and will never be a hero to Natives because he allowed the mass hanging of so many...It is possible each was convicted out of their own mouths, and that in enforcing law he limited vengeance... What ever...After one terrible loss, he asked aloud: What will the people say???
We have put that past behind us when a king could say: once more into the breach...We are not led by those who order up the war... These men, if they be men at all, are incapable of war, wanting of courage, and immoral by any fair standard...They are not leaders in any sense of the word... They are followers of public opinion to the extent that they cannot mold it... That these men should in the end be buried under a flag of the United States, in ground hallowed by the heroes there is an insult to the living and the dead, and is an offense against reason, and morality...
It was inevitable, that with the abandonment of democracy, and with the clinging to majority rule, that some day the ignorance allowed by majority rule would come to dominate even the government... It is not what it is, but how it can be spun... It is not government, but response to the polls...What do the people think, and what will their patriotic reaction to war be, and how can that feeling be manipulated???...
The last thing a bunch of politicians want in the defense department is some one who has seen the terrors of political war, and can act rationally, even if against the opinion of the public...We are being destroyed by our own military, through the cost of it, and by the use of it to defend our capital spread around the world that does no longer support the military, or government with taxes....We are becoming a scorpion without a sting...
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Jan 11, 2013 7:24 AM
Sir;...Dr. Johnson said that every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier or not having been at sea...
I think it is common enough to turn the meaness we feel for some fact off of ourselves, and onto the facts themselves, and demean them rather than changing them... To order people into war does not make a man a soldier, but it reveals better than almost any test the limits of his intelligence, the narrowness of his perspective and the want of his imagination...
When I was young and at some hippie banshee in the woods around a blistering fire, a new guy in town had his mouth running like a turkey's ass on politics and the Vietnam War said he would like shove a Purple Heart up the President's ess...Levack, one of the older guys, stiff legged from a war wound simply asked him: Do you have a Purple Heart???
You only get those standing far too close to an armed man who hates your guts, and wants you dead...It is one thing to say you admire courage, but we forget how essential it is to life...If you have ever seen what prisoners agaraphobia can make of a person, or any other phobia for example, you know even the most simple fears can dominate and concentrate ones attention to the exclusion of all reason...
We all have our fears... We all have our insecurities... The terrors people must some times endure as the price of staying alive we too often take for granted...Only ten percent of men in Vietnam saw actual combat, and that group took ninety percent of the casualties...I have known some who went there and never carried a gun, and if they had been killed, it would likely have been an accident...I have known one who might have been more scared of running out of weed than in getting killed, but he was a native and raised to face death with equanimity...Now that I do not face death as a daily reality it seems strange that I ever did... How strange it must seem to those who never did...
Your government is not made up of brave men, morally or physically... They can read the polls... They can calculate... They can piss away your life and all you need for it; but they will not risk their own... Gambling with other people's money is not hard... You win some and lose some, and do it again tomorrow...As that man from Tammany Hall said: We saw our chances, and we took 'em....
I have worked with some brave man, and the bravest was scared all the time I worked with him...He was just in the wrong racket, and I told him so...He would shake, and sweat great bullets of sweat, even in the cool of the day; and he would some times have trouble walking a short step on the iron to reach the ladder of salvation, but he did not run...On the Detroit VA hospital, an operator catting back had the load line engage, and it pulled the hundred odd feet of jib over the top, and down to the ground almost before he was even aware of it... The head ache ball which was a huge punkin of a thing, iron more than three feet across at the center, landed right in front of the drum, that is, right beside the cab and the operator...I asked him about it later... I thought he was brave for sitting right there all along... He said: I never saw it coming... Perhaps anticipation of it is the killer... People would sing the bells of hell in WWI, never thinking they would die until they did...How could anyone live through all that horror thinking they were but a witness to their own demise???
We have lost that sense of a war to end all wars... We no sooner end one than we must get onto the next... Empire demands constant offense... Gibbons who wrote of the Decline and Fall of Rome, and if memory serves me, talked of the expense to a society of keeping only one percent of the population under arms, and while we have reduced the actual numbers engaged, we have increased the price in consideration always of profit, and have replaced all possible men at arms with contractors having no allegience but money...The human, and thus political cost is reduced, but the financial price increases, and with less of markets, less industry at home, we are broken by the cost of conquest, even when we conquer mere wastes...
Where carrion is the eagles will gather... Money makes patriots, and necessity makes soldiers... We should make certain it is not money that is contriving necessity... And every man who serves should ask: if this people and their government care so little for the sacrifices of the living, how must they consider the devotion of the dead...
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jan 12, 2013 9:38 AM
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