By now, every progressive who signed onto the Internet in the past couple of days has no doubt heard about the explosion generated by the horrible, horrible insult — the utterly fireable insult — that Chris Hayes made against soldiers on Memorial Day in a segment on his Sunday show.
Except that what Hayes said wasn't an insult. On the contrary, instead of the vapid faux patriotism that most commentators, both in print and in the broadcast media, offer up every Memorial Day, Hayes's thoughtful approach was profoundly refreshing and realistic. He didn't disrespect solders. He didn't disrespect heroes. He didn't make a mockery of Memorial Day the way so many politicians, pundits and assorted phonies inevitably, repeatedly and with impunity do.
For his trouble, he was called a "parasite," "reprehensible and disgusting," a "hater" of the troops. Ann Coulter, who gets paid by the pound for her insults, fired up her synapses for a patented slam along the lines of Arnold Schwartzenegger's "girly men" to her 143,000 Twitter followers.
Okay, in case you didn't hear or read what Hayes had to say that spurred the right to launch its mini-crusade, here it is:
I feel uncomfortable about the word "hero" because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, 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.
That was a single minute of the 12-minute segment
. Being the extemporaneous spoken word, it might not have had quite the polish or clarity it could have in a thrice-read-and-edited written commentary. In other words, he might have said it a little better. Nonetheless, I don't get the outrage. In fact, I'm outraged by outrage.
Look at the context. Here's part of what Hayes said in that same segment. Speaking first about Master Sergeant Evander Earl Andrews, who died in Qatar, Oct. 12, 2001, in an accident with a forklift while building an airstrip in preparation for the war in Afghanistan:
He was the first American casualty of Operating Enduring Freedom, the first door knock at the home, the first flag-draped coffin of this long era of war. He left behind a wife and four children. [... His mother said he] "always had a heart for others. I asked her if the wars and the deaths of those who fought them seemed an after-thought in American public life. She said, 'I think people want to go on and not think of war and losing people and deaths and all that stuff." She was critical of the president, telling me she felt he lacked the "feeling for the military that he should have" and she said the cause for which his son died was just. [...] "I think our grief is too private for public ceremonies and such," she said. "It's very hard for us."
Eleven days after Evander Andrews died in Qatar, U.S. warplanes bombed a remote area near Thori village in Afghanistan, apparently targeting a Taliban military base about a kilometer outside the town. According to Human Rights Watch, the bombing killed 23 civilians, the first confirmed civilian casualties of Operation Enduring Freedom. A 25-year-old man named Samiullah tells Human Rights Watch that he was outside the village when the bombs started falling. He rushed back to his home to rescue his family. He arrived at his family compound to find his wife and three of his children dead, the youngest just eight months old.
It is natural to grieve for those we know over those we don't. It is why those of us who are fortunate enough not to have lost anyone in this decade of war can go about merrily barbequing this weekend and not think we're being callous. And it is natural to mourn our countrymen rather than strangers, to grieve for people with names we can pronounce, who went to high schools that look like our own. But if the grief of our fellow citizens for their loved ones who've fallen in the war is increasingly remote to a nation in which only a tiny fraction serve in the military, the grief of those who mourn for their dead halfway around the world is even more abstract. For them we don't have a ritual or day on the calendar. [...]
But maybe Memorial Day can be a moment to reflect and to will ourselves to grieve for Evander Earl Andrews and to consider how broadly those sacrifices emanate, how many are sacrificed against their will in places remote and unpronounceable, where a man comes home to find his eight-month-old daughter killed from above. [In the words of Walt Whitman] "The dead, the dead, the dead. Ours all."
Rather the opposite of "reprehensible and disgusting."
As Michael Tomasky wrote Monday:
I don't want to put any words in his mouth, but Hayes was, I believe, trying to talk about the way certain words are used as bludgeons against dissenters. "Freedom" being an obvious example from the Bush years. If you opposed Bush-Cheney policies, supposedly, at least in the minds of some, you were against freedom itself. That of course was contemptible and directly counter to every laudable value this country stands for.
But "freedom," in the above debate, is kind of an abstraction. With soldiers it's much more concrete because you're talking about actual human beings putting their actual lives at risk. I'm the first to say I couldn't do it (not that they'd want me anyway). But the objectionable thing here is not the idea that soldiers are heroes. The objectionable thing is that there is a kind of blackmail associated with words like these, the majority saying to the minority that if you don't agree with us about X, it's the stockade for you. It's always been an ugly impulse; see Ibsen's Enemy of the People for starters. And in this country, the home of the First Amendment, it's more than ugly. It's unpatriotic.
After that was written, after two days of that relentless right-wing bludgeoning, Chris Hayes apologized.
Personally, I would not have apologized. I think demanding an apology was the insult. But I am not in Hayes's shoes nor was I subjected to either the visible public assault or any of the attacks that surely went on behind the scenes. I don't know if his MSNBC bosses pressed him to apologize or whether in speaking to his friends and political allies, he became convinced that it was the right thing or the smart thing or the necessary thing to do.
What I do know is that his apology was as thoughtful and respectful as his entire segment on Memorial Day. And that it ought to shut up the strutting bellyachers who think they own our memories, our mourning, our perception of patriotism. But, of course, it won't.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2005:
I have always had a hard time trying to figure out what General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, really thinks about anything. Reading this account of his appearances this morning on the Sunday shows doesn't help. Indeed the statements are worrisome. Does he have a clue?:
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. has done a good job of humanely treating detainees.
Did he really say that?
The human rights group Amnesty International released a report last week calling the prison camp "the gulag of our time."
Myers said that report was "absolutely irresponsible." He said the U.S. was doing its best to detain fighters who, if released, "would turn right around and try to slit our throats, slit our children's throats."
That inspires confidence in the humane treatment that will be offered General Myers. Boy, it suuuure does.
Tweet of the Day:
Romney says there's nothing improper about his Las Vegas fundraiser with Trump because prostitution is legal in Nevada.
— @FrankConniff via web
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