Loving the troops to death

There was an interesting brouhaha over the weekend as Glenn Beck’s “news” site took a potshot at CNN anchor Jake Tapper.  In part it was interesting because Tapper has long taken an interest in veterans issues, yet now was being accused of that old trope, “hating the troops.”

At issue were observations Tapper made during an interview with former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and actor/director Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg portrays Luttrell in a new movie based on Luttrell’s best-selling book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.”

The book is about a disastrous mission Luttrell and three other SEALs were on in Afghanistan in 2005. Three of the team members were killed (along with 16 other Navy SEALs). Luttrell was the only survivor of his team.

Marcus Luttrell, photo by  Larry D. Moore (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Marcus Luttrell, photo by Larry D. Moore (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tapper and Luttrell discuss the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan

Here’s what Tapper said about the film, and the overall war in Afghanistan, that set first Luttrell off during the interview itself, and then the minions over in Beck-land and beyond.

TAPPER: One of the emotions that I felt, while watching the film is first of all the hopelessness of the situation — how horrific it was and also just all that loss of life of these brave American men.

And I was torn about the message of the film in the same way that I think I am about the war in Afghanistan itself. I don’t want any more senseless American death. And at the same time I know that there were bad people there and good people that need help. Was that intentional?

LUTTRELL: (visibly agitated): I don’t know what part of the film you were watching, but hopelessness never really came into it. I mean, where did you see that? It was never at a point where we just felt like we were hopelessly lost or anything like that. We never gave up. We never felt like that we were losing until we were actually dead. That never came across in the battle and while we were fighting on the mountain, it was just us against them.

TAPPER:  Just the sense of all these wonderful people who died. It seemed senseless. I don’t mean to disrespect in any way, but it seemed senseless — all of these wonderful people who were killed for an op that went wrong.

LUTTRELL: We spend our whole lives training to defend this country and then we were sent over there by this country — so you’re telling me because we were over there doing what we were told by our country that it was senseless? And my guys — what? They died for nothing?

TAPPER: No, I’m not saying that at all.

LUTTRELL: That’s what you said. So, let me just say that yeah it went bad for us over there, but that was our job. That’s what we did. We didn’t complain about it. We went out there and did what we did best, and at the end of it we weren’t standing, they were…

TAPPER: Maybe it’s just the difference between what a civilian feels when he watches this, versus what a soldier does.

WAHLBERG: Absolutely. I mean, I completely agree. But I don’t think his opinion is ever going to change, I mean that’s his job.

And here’s the 5 minute video of Tapper’s coverage and the exchange CNN:

Most of the berating of Tapper for his “un-American” remarks fail to note that Wahlberg, who stars in the film as Luttrell, agreed wholeheartedly with Tapper’s comments during the taping.

You look at the criticism of Tapper online, and it’s been predictably vicious from some servicemembers and some conservatives (though many conservatives and service members have, interestingly, defended Tapper, including crazy Joe Walsh of all people), and you have to ask yourself what civilian hasn’t thought what Tapper said during the interview?

I used to watch ABC’s THIS WEEK religiously, and at the end of every show they’d show the names of the American service members who were killed that week in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It was a horrible thing to watch, so sad, especially the ages of those killed – almost always, it seemed, under 25 and sometimes in their teens.

I think a lot of Americans read those lists of the dead, shook their heads from side to side, and thought “what a waste.”  They would have felt exactly the way Jake Tapper appeared to have felt watching Luttrell’s movie.  They would have asked themselves why we sent so many good men and women to their deaths for this?  And it takes a special kind of mental contortion to somehow twist that into a condemnation of the troops.  In fact, it’s quite the contrary.

Now, you can quibble over the specific words – “hopeless” and “senseless” – in Tapper’s interview.  But good luck convincing anyone that Afghanistan, in retrospect, wasn’t a bad move.  As for Iraq, it turned out slightly better (only slightly), but still was an unnecessary war of convenience based on a lie.  And it’s a valid – nay, a necessary and patriotic – question to ask whether it was worth losing nearly 7,000 brave Americans in those wars, and whether it would be worth it all over again next time.  That’s how we learn.

And the question isn’t being asked because anyone hates the troops. (If you hate the troops, you’re probably not terribly concerned about them dying.)  The question is being asked because we care about the troops, we care about their lives, and the lives lost.

So why are some now beating up on Jake Tapper for admitting a truth that many Americans would agree with?


Hagiography is at least partly why.

Our country (perhaps all countries) has a penchant for symbolically genuflecting to all things military.  And I say this as a hawk who is probably far to the right of many of my reader, and many Democrats, on matters of war.

Republicans have raised the symbolic genuflect to an art form, but Democrats do it too (if only because they feel they have to).  Politicians, and journalists, and anyone in public life have to attest early and often to how much they love the troops.  And while I’m all for showing support for the troops (you should hear some of the things I did during the first Iraq War when Christmastime came around) because A) you’re truly thankful for what they do, and B) because such public support helps keep them going during wartime, I’m less a fan when “support for the troops” becomes a mandatory test of one’s patriotism on an issue that has nothing to do with supporting the troops.

Republicans love to symbolically love the troops

Of course, the irony is that some of those who profess their love of the troops the loudest, the Republicans, are the ones who tend to love the least.  To wit:

Who sent our troops into Afghanistan and only six months later started drawing down their support, hampering the search for bin Laden, so he could focus instead on attacking Iraq, a war that wasn’t even necessary, we couldn’t afford, and ultimately was based on a lie?  Republican President George Bush.

And who refused to even give our servicemembers the body armor they needed to defend themselves during those wars?  Republican President George Bush.  (Remember, we raised over $5,000 on this blog for one service member and his men in Iraq so that they could afford to buy their own body armor because Bush wouldn’t give it to them.)

And who lied his way, our way, into a massive war that cost thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars? Republican President George Bush.

And who proposed massive cuts to veterans’ benefits in the middle of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Republican President George Bush.

Oh, and all those Walter Reed scandals?  Republican President George Bush.

I’m going to wager that most of the folks berating Jake Tapper probably didn’t raise one dime to help our troops in wartime, and they never wrote a book about the troops either.  They probably weren’t that worried about George Bush lying his way into a war and putting our service members lives at risk unnecessarily.  And they probably didn’t say squat about the abuses our vets faced at Walter Reed either.

So if we’re going to get into a game of who cares more about the troops, I’m putting my money on the Jake Tappers of the world.  Because far too many of the folks who usually profess their love the loudest have been AWOL for far too long.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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