Editorial: Sad when Trump doesn’t understand military values

The Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale

America’s armed forces impress certain core values upon their recruits. The Army’s, for example, are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

“In serving your country,” the Army explains, “you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain.”

How can anyone not get that?

But there’s someone who doesn’t. It’s their commander in chief, President Donald Trump.

As reported by Atlantic magazine editor Jeffrey Goldberg last week and confirmed by other media, Trump has said that American men and women in uniform are “suckers” for serving in the military and that they are “losers” if they are killed or captured.

His inability to comprehend patriotic service was on display long before a 2017 visit to Arlington National Cemetery, as recounted in the Atlantic, where the president stood among heroes of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and remarked “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”

As far back as 1999, according to the Washington Post, Trump was questioning the heroism of John McCain, a potential future rival for the presidency, because he had been captured in Vietnam. Even earlier, in television and radio interviews, he compared combat in Vietnam to the hazards of sexually transmitted diseases. Trump got a draft deferment with a diagnosis of bone spurs.

“If you’re young, and in this era, and if you have any guilt about not having gone to Vietnam, we have our own Vietnam. It’s called the dating game,” he said on one occasion.

Many Americans may want to believe Trump’s fervent denials of what the Atlantic disclosed, but the president is like the shepherd boy in Aesop’s fable who falsely cried “Wolf!” so often that the villagers did not believe him when it was true. Little of what he says can be taken as fact without independent corroboration.

Within hours, the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post and even the national security correspondent at Fox News corroborated essential elements from their own sources.

Forbes linked to a video of Trump himself, at a 2015 campaign event in Iowa, using the word “losers” in expanding on his disdain for warriors like McCain, who had been captured.

This is the gist of the new allegations.

• When Trump withdrew from a scheduled visit to a World War I cemetery near Paris in 2018, he claimed it was because his helicopter couldn’t fly in rain and the Secret Service couldn’t drive him safely. In private, he said it was because he feared his hair would be disheveled in the rain and remarked, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” Separately, the Atlantic said, he referred to the 1,800 U.S. Marines buried there, from the pivotal 1918 battle of Belleau Wood, as “suckers” for having been killed. He asked aloud, “Who were the good guys in this war?” and said he didn’t understand why the U.S. had intervened.

• Trump used the same term, “loser,” on at least two occasions to describe former President George H.W. Bush, a Navy pilot in World War II who had been shot down by Japanese forces and rescued by a U.S. submarine. The Bush family has conspicuously refused to support Trump.

• On Memorial Day 2017, it was at the grave of Robert Kelly, a Marine lieutenant who had died in Afghanistan, where Trump asked his father, retired Gen. John Kelly, “What was in it for them?” General Kelly, his head of homeland security at the time, would become his chief of staff.

• At a White House meeting in 2018 to plan for a military parade, Atlantic reported, Trump “asked his staff not to include wounded veterans, on grounds that spectators would feel uncomfortable in the presence of amputees. ‘Nobody wants to see that,’ he said.”

The sources cited by the Atlantic and the other news media remain anonymous, as is true of nearly all White House reportage during the reign of this particularly vengeful president.

But in this instance, silence speaks loudly.

Kelly, James Mattis and other generals who served Trump and would have knowledge of what the Atlantic reported have refused the media’s requests to either confirm or deny the allegations.

To anyone familiar with the military’s concepts of duty and honor, their silence is profoundly significant. It is unthinkable that anyone who held four-star rank, as they did, would decline to defend the commander in chief unless the charges were true.

Trump himself underscored the import of Kelly’s silence by attacking him the day after the story broke. He said he fired Kelly after 17 months because he was “exhausted,” was “unable to handle the pressure,” and “didn’t do a good job.”

“And now he goes out and bad-mouths,” Trump said.

In its own reporting last week, the New York Times said that “people familiar with Mr. Trump’s private conversations say he has long scorned those who served in Vietnam as being too dumb to have gotten out of it, as he did.”

And according to his outspoken niece Mary Trump, the president’s brother Robert, who died recently, told her that Donald Trump had threatened to disown his eldest son when he talked of volunteering for the military.

If the Atlantic’s allegations are true, Trump is unfit to be the person ultimately responsible for the lives of the 2.4 million American volunteers who serve on active duty and in the reserves.

The values of our military — duty and honor above all — are not his values.


The Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale

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