- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

In his recent book, "The Battle of New Orleans," the historian Robert Remini observed rather despondently, "There was a time when the United States had heroes and reveled in them." Among the more liberal elements of the press, the professoriate and those others who are part of the opinion elite, there is a trend now to portray American fighting men as the opposite of heroes, even as guilty of awful episodes, indeed as war criminals. Or perhaps this is less a trend than a series of coincidences. Or that those who disdain the military culture have found a fresh furrow to plow.

The first of these contemporary episodes was CNN's "Tailwind" the supposed revelation that a U.S. special operations group used poison gas in Vietnam. The furious reaction by men who had participated forced the network to retract the assertions of the thoroughly flawed show.

The next in this heroic eruption was the Associated Press' dramatic assertion that American soldiers in the devastating early weeks of the war in Korea killed possibly hundreds of refugees at No Gun Ri under orders from commanders. The AP won a Pulitzer Prize, and the Pentagon launched a fresh investigation on the half-century old episode, which is still under way. Although it now has been revealed that one of the wire service's principal sources was not at the scene in July 1950 and had widely falsified his military records to include being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and a battlefield commission, the AP says it's standing by its story.

The Korean "massacre" story by the AP is instructive in the media's evident trend to demonize soldiers from past wars. Certainly awful episodes occur in the chaos of battle and can result in horrible episodes such as My Lai. However, the alacrity and intensity with which the press embraced the No Gun Ri charges was remarkable. Edward Daily, the former GI who claimed to have heard the official orders to fire on the refugees huddled under a bridge, of whom "simply hundreds" may have died, was given full media treatment a cover story in the Washington Post's magazine and featured on a special NBC "Dateline" program, for example.

But Daily was not even in the 7th Cavalry Regiment at the time of No Gun Ri. It now appears his military record as presented by the Associated Press is entirely fictitious (US News magazine deserves credit for re-reporting the AP account of No Gun Ri and showing how vulnerable the "war crime" may turn out to be). The New York Times revisited the story in a May 31 article about Daily's strange role in the No Gun Ri story, and reported: "The Army [investigation] is close to concluding that its troops fired on civilians at No Gun Ri, but that the number killed remains unproved. And the people familiar with the inquiry said the Army had thus far found only one man who made the crucial contention that there were orders to slaughter the civilians" and that was Edward Daily. Even in that article, however, the Times did not bother to provide a context for No Gun Ri a general failing in much of the press coverage after the AP's original story in September 1999.

On June 25, 1950, Communist North Korea launched a massive invasion of South Korea, captured Seoul and moved with devastating force down the peninsula. Under the aegis of the United Nations, U.S. troops began arriving in Korea a few days later most of them garrison-soft, poorly armed and equipped. Though they often fought bravely, the American losses were terrible as the North Koreans and their Soviet-supplied armor smashed into disorganized Korean and American troops.

It was in this period that the supposed massacre at No Gun Ri took place, in reaction to the concern that North Korean troops were infiltrating the hordes of refugees to penetrate the defenders' lines. As James Webb, former secretary of the Navy and winner of the Navy Cross as a Marine in Vietnam, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: The U.S. Army casualty figures for July 1950 in Korea were 2,834 killed and 2,486 wounded, a horrendously high ratio of killed to wounded (No Gun Ri occurred July 26). Webb notes that there were orders that no refugees were to be allowed to cross the unit's lines. "Such orders, excised from the chaos that created their necessity, fall heavily on the minds and consciences of those who have never been called upon to make the Hobson's choice of combat: Do I protect my men and lose my innocence? Or do I keep my innocence and lose my men? … America is a lovely place to have such debates as we sit in brightly lit offices next to our computers under the whir of air conditioners … and sip on herbal tea or Snapple." While exaggeration of war records is not unfamiliar, there has been a tendency in recent years for ex-soldiers to falsely claim dishonor and Edward Daily's account of No Gun Ri fits the pattern. "They do that because there is a movement in this country, the victim-hero thing. 'People will feel sorry for me that I killed women and children and they will understand me.' " The New York Times included that comment from Richard Burns, a Vietnam veteran who was a consultant on the 1998 book "Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History," by R.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. Victimization has become a perverse distinction in our muddled society, and it is perhaps sadly understandable that it has infested some veterans.

It is not understandable that the American press has been so eager to exploit this sad state of mind. That the media have aggressively done so suggests that the armed forces are becoming an increasingly exotic blossom in our cultural garden. Fewer and fewer of the young from America's privileged families any longer take time out from earning graduate degrees to enable them to reform society or from pursuing the glories of dot-com achievement to wear their nation's uniforms. That ignorance of military subculture, with its hard and special ethic, is dangerous and dishonors those who serve the nation, past and present.

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