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Friday, June 1, 2012

Chris Hayes and the Conservatives' Open Warfare Attack Campaign on the First Amendment

MSNBC host Chris Hayes' recent comments about his discomfort with appending the label "hero" to soldiers killed in action has engendered a significant amount of hate-fueled, vociferous invectives from the military establishment and conservative talking heads and bloggers who were deeply irate with and angered by his comments on Up with Chris Hayes.

This is what Hayes said on his show:

Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect 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.
Interestingly enough, Hayes had a panel of commentators who espoused similar viewpoints and agreed with his assessment. John McHorter of buttressed Hayes' statement with this following argument:

No, words take on residences, and that happens to almost any word. And sometimes you need to revise. I would almost rather not say 'hero' and come up with a more neutral term, which, of course, would take on partisan residences as time went by. But that's true of the word 'sacrifice, that's true of the word 'valor,' that's true of the word 'hero.' Instantly you get [makes trumpet sound] in a certain way of looking at things, and it is manipulative. I don't think that's necessarily deliberately. We use language unconsciously. But nevertheless, I share your discomfort with those words, because they are argumentational strategies in themselves often without wanting to be.
Daily Beast contributor Michelle Goldberg, who was also on the show, concurred with McHorter and Hayes by saying:

Well, and they're also a little bit empty, because, I mean, there is - there are people who are genuine heroes but that kind of implication is that death is what makes you a hero, you know, as opposed to kind of an affirmative actor or any moral act or, I mean.
Undoubtedly, the second the word about Hayes' uncomfortableness got out, the congressionally-chartered Military-industrial complex-backed Veterans of Foreign Wars dispatched Director of Public Affairs a.k.a. spokesman National Commander Richard DeNoyer to denounce Hayes' comments on mainstream media outlets like Fox News and many others, calling on Hayes and MSNBC to make "an immediate and unequivocal apology," in which he declared:

Chris Hayes' recent remarks on MSNBC regarding our fallen service members are reprehensible and disgusting.
Furthermore, DeNoyer stated:

His words reflect his obvious disregard for the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have paid the ultimate price while defending our nation. His insipid statement is particularly callous because it comes at a time when our entire nation pauses to reflect and honor the memory of our nations' fallen heroes
The VFW's top spokesman Joe Davis told The Daily Caller on Sunday:

If Mr. Hayes feels uncomfortable, I suggest he enlist, go to war, then come home to what he expects is a grateful nation but encounters the opposite. It’s far too easy to cast stones from inexperience
DeNoyer told the press that the "anti-hero" comments made by Hayes on his show are "devastating" for "those grieving loved ones."

He further in part stated:

Such an ignorant and uncaring and blatant disregard for people's deep feelings are indefensible, and that is why the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States demand that Mr. Hayes and MSNBC provides an immediate and unequivocal apology.
Unsurprisingly the conservative response to Hayes' remarks was even much harsher than the VFW's. Daniel Halper of the Weekly Standard harshly noted:

Nevertheless, [Hayes] hasn't apologized and seems to stand by what he said.
Conservative Twitter-feeded website Twitchy retorted, while noting that a new hashtag #MSNBCheroes has been created, the following:

Leave it to Twitter to teach someone a much-needed lesson. Media accountability, baby! Hayes made the mistake, in a fit of deplorable moral relativism, of saying out loud what the Left thinks and believes. At least admit it, MSNBC
Twitchy's staff even commented ad nauseum on this subject here.

Kurt Schlichter of leveled an ad hominem at Hayes, stating:

I greatly enjoy watching progressives seethe as they are forced, for the sake of appearances, to pretend to support our troops. You know it’s killing them.

But it’s the progressives’ own doing – their sickening performance following the Vietnam War, when they figuratively and literally spit on our troops – so disgusted decent Americans of all political stripes that to do anything but treat our troops with the utmost respect is to draw near-universal contempt and scorn from across the mainstream political spectrum.

So, the real problem for Chris Hayes is that he actually said what he thinks. He thinks our soldiers are suckers and fools at best, brutal sociopaths at worst. At a minimum, he feels that honoring those who died for this country might encourage people to see that actually defending our country is a good thing. He’s not quite ready to make that leap; after all, most progressives are ambivalent about this whole 'America' concept, if not actively opposed to it.
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter took some nasty potshots at Hayes, opining on her Twitter page:

Chris Hayes 'Uncomfortable' Calling Fallen Military 'Heroes' – Marines respond by protecting his right to menstruate.
A comment posted by a user named azgal602 to the widely-read conservative Republican-backed website MediaBusters (which has been claiming to be exposing liberal media bias [when, in fact, it's statist media bias])attacks Hayes' remarks with the following:

People who feel this way and verbalize it should be shipped off on the first military transport to the front line. How dare they sit here in their comfortable safety and reap the rewards of what the military men and women sacrifice for us while belittling their ultimate sacrifice. The lowest of the low[.]
Wizbang's Warner Todd Houston attacked the liberal TV host himself, vehemently quipping:

This weekend Hayes felt compelled to warn everyone that calling our troops 'heroes' is something that should make us all 'uncomfortable.'
That's a lie right there, because Hayes merely stated that, while some troops are heroes (such as coming to the aid of a fellow soldier who has been hit by rapid gunfire, etc.), he actually stated that the labeling of every American soldier who dies in a war makes him "uncomfortable," even though he also stated that he "might be wrong."

Stated Doug Mataconis in his fierce objection to Hayes' attitude towards the term "hero":

I suppose the problem I have with Hayes’s comments, and with the comments of those who have been defending him online today, is that the objection to describing those who have died in service to their country as heroes isn’t based so much in a concern that it diminishes the true acts of heroism that have occurred, and will continue to occur in wartime as it is in the fear that acknowledging the sacrifices that these men, and women, have made would somehow be a political statement. That strikes me as a deeply myopic, politically-obsessed, view of the world. Disagreeing with the political decision to go to war should never, I would submit, be a reason to either denigrate or ignore the sacrifices that those who served in that war have made, which seems to be the clear implication of what Hayes and his fellow panelists were saying in this segment. [emphasis added]
Mataconis continued further:

Individual soldiers are not responsible for the decisions of those who sent them into battle, and it strikes me as incredibly callous to dismiss the sacrifices made by those who died in such endeavors.
Pseudo-libertarian (yet proudly neoconservative Republican) blogger Eric Dondero spews his anti-Hayes venom, blasting the MSNBC show host on Here he said:

Honestly, does it get any worse than this? If you hadn't seen it yet, be prepared. It's been making its way around the right-to-sphere since Friday. His words are truly repulsive. Even liberal pundits and blogs are distancing themselves from his blather.
Last but not least the conservative Washington Times editorialized the matter, attacking Hayes by stating:

The word “heroes” has been used to describe America’s fallen for more than 200 years. It’s not “rhetorically proximate” to justifications for war but a traditional mark of gratitude and respect for the sacrifice made by the person who was killed and the family members left behind. It’s a way of recognizing that regardless of how a person died, he did so in service to the country. It’s not a glorification of war but a solemn acknowledgment of sacrifice.
Sadly but not shockingly Hayes backpedaled on his statements - for telling the truth. While his statement from his blog can be found here, here's what he wrote:

On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word "hero" to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don't think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I've set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.

As many have rightly pointed out, it's very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation's citizens as a whole. One of the points made during Sunday's show was just how removed most Americans are from the wars we fight, how small a percentage of our population is asked to shoulder the entire burden and how easy it becomes to never read the names of those who are wounded and fight and die, to not ask questions about the direction of our strategy in Afghanistan, and to assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues.

But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.
Shortly after his apology went out, the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf issued an op-ed on the scandal, noting that Hayes shouldn't be the one apologizing for his statements. Rather, his detractors should be making the apologetic rounds.

Friedersdorf partly notes:

If Hayes' critics merely articulated why they didn't share his perspective, even forcefully, public discourse would've operated as it ought to -- one person makes an earnest, comprehensible, intellectually honest argument; other people respond with assents or counterarguments; the best ideas win. Instead, many of Hayes' critics puffed out their chests, emphasized how outraged they were, and proceeded to either elide or mischaracterize much of what Hayes said.
He continued in part:

A lot of Hayes' critics have said that, no matter if he's right or wrong on the merits, he shouldn't have been so insensitive as to raise this subject on Memorial Day Weekend, when it might upset people who've lost loved ones and are trying to focus on honoring them as, yes, fallen heroes. Whatever you think of that argument, know this: With no disrespect to Hayes, he spoke on an obscure show that aired early in the morning during a holiday weekend on a liberal cable network. Had his musings been permitted to drift off into the ether, vanishingly few family members of deceased veterans would've heard them; even fewer would've been offended.

But thanks to the Schlichters and Hustons of the world, and the Fox News folks who put their segment on the controversy together, a lot of military families were told on Memorial Day weekend that some smug liberal elitist at MSNBC thinks the troops 'are all knuckle dragging, murderous, bigots that just want to shoot someone,' to quote one Hayes critic. There's no getting around it. The people who demagogued and egregiously misrepresented Hayes caused far more upset to military families than his actual remarks, especially in context, ever could.

Yet no one is outraged by their behavior, or calling on them to apologize.
The reality of the matter comes down to this. The conservatives have declared an open-warfare attack campaign on the First Amendment by engaging in smug name-calling, condescending, and hubristic remarks aimed at Hayes - in the form of ad hominems - rather than opening the dialogue for assents and counterarguments. They will attack anyone - and I mean, anyone - who freely dissents on the view that we must call all American GIs "heroes," whether they are right or wrong.

As libertarian writer, blogger, commentator, and ideological thinker Jacob Hornberger called out the conservatives on their hypocrisy on the subject in his op-ed (which is posted on the Future of Freedom Foundation website), in which he pointed out that the Times failed to make it vitally clear as to whether the principles of military heroism in wartime to which the military and conservative establishments hold themselves applies to only Americans or also to soldiers of other countries.

Here he says:

Applying the standard set forth by the Times, would it be appropriate for Germans to use the word 'heroes' to describe Germany’s fallen in the many wars in which Germany has been involved, including World War II? Could it be said that describing Nazi soldiers killed in World War II as 'heroes' would not serve to justify World War II but instead serve simply as a mark of gratitude and respect for the sacrifice made by the German soldier who was killed and the family members left behind? Could it be said that this would just be a way to recognize that regardless of how the Nazi soldier died, he did so in service to his country? Could it be said that describing the Nazi soldier as a hero would not be a glorification of war but rather a solemn acknowledgement of sacrifice?

At one point, Hornberger correctly notes:

In other words, would the Times apply its principles regarding war, soldiers, heroism, and patriotism only to the United States or universally?

Or do they apply only to the winners? Do they apply, for example, to the Soviet Union, one of the winners of World War II, which was governed by a brutal communist regime during the war and for decades afterward, a regime that oppressed Jews and others and kept Eastern Europe under its iron boot for decades after the end of the war. Were communist soldiers opposing Nazi soldiers heroes for serving their government during time of war? Were they heroes for their willingness to die to ensure that their country remained under communist rule rather than Nazi rule?

Indeed, how would the Times apply its principles to the Vietnam War, a war that the United States lost? Surely, it would say that American soldiers who served in Vietnam or who died there were heroes, except perhaps for the ones who committed war crimes. Would it say the same about North Vietnamese communist soldiers or about the Viet Cong?

Moreover, Hornberger quips:

It seems to me that the reason that Nazi soldiers have never been honored as heroes is because the world has long held Germany to a different standard than the one that the Washington Times applies to the United States. Both German soldiers and the German citizenry should have made a critical examination of what their government was doing and realized that their government was in the wrong. On reaching that determination, it was the duty of the individual soldier to refuse to participate in the military, and it was the duty of the citizen to oppose his government, even in time of war.

Obviously, the Nazi government didn’t take that position. Its position was that it is the solemn duty of the citizen to come to the support of his government in time of crisis or war. The Hitler regime viewed the citizen who joined the Nazi armed forces as a hero for his willingness to fight and die for his country. The German people who supported the troops and the rest of the government were looked upon as patriots.

Isn’t that the same standard adhered to by many Americans with respect to America’s wars, soldiers, and citizenry?
Hornberger precisely notes the problems made by the conservative American pundit establishment while employing the German citizen and Nazi soldier analogy to buttress it. However, this is where he hasn't made this point, which is that conservatives have nothing but solid blood lust on their minds, especially after the 9/11 attacks. They have endorsed and codified into law the idea that we Americans collectively must embrace our long-term presences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya to mean that the State's own warriors - American GIs - will and must be sacrificed on the altars of blind patriotism, fealty, obedience, and heroism, even if these soldiers have committed crimes such as rapes and murders in those countries and in past wars (especially during the first two World Wars). This is done all in the name of eliminating the terrorist threat, which can only be attained and accomplished via the global War on Terror.

When Private First Class (Pcf) Bradley Manning gave Julian Assange the video footage of the July 12, 2007 "Collateral Murder" video he needed via his WikiLeaks site to release the horrific footage of unarmed news journalists (who were initially pegged by the U.S. military as armed militants) being gunned down by an Army AH-64 Apache helicopter, was he branded "a hero"? No, he was branded the opposite - a traitor by conservatives and the military establishment. Even James Kirchick, the conservative writer and contributing editor for the New Republic, even believes Manning to be "no gay hero."

On the same show in he made his statements, Chris Hayes did state this talking point:

The argument on the other side of that is, we don't have a draft. This is voluntary. This is someone making a decision to take on a certain risk of that. And they're taking it on because they're bound to all of us through this social contract, through this democratic process of self-governance in which we decide collectively that we're going to go to war. And how we're going to go to war, and why we're going to go to war. And they also give up their own agency in a certain way that, for a liberal caricature like myself, seems very difficult to comprehend -- submitting so totally to what the electorate or people in power are going to decide about how to use your body, but they do that all of full volition. And if the word hero is not right, there's something about it that's noble, right?

Hayes is correct. Military service is now voluntary (unlike the service which was mandatory at the height of the Vietnam War), and any average Joe (or Jane) can choose to join it if he (or she) wishes. That individual takes a big risk for joining the military, knowing the potential dangers that come with the uniform.

Having said that, no one - or no persons - twisted the arms of the current rank-and-file troops to sign up for the military. Those men and women who chose that profession as a way to pay for college or to establish a career within that institution made their beds, and they must lie in them. They made their choices; now, they must take personal responsibility for those choices and live with them, whether they like it or not.

The word "hero" is casually thrown around like it has some paramount meaning in this militarized world in which we live. Whenever I think of the word "hero" or "heroine," I think of someone who risks his or her life to save the life of another person and rescues them from danger, even if it's done at his or her own risk. The word has now come to denote any soldier who is either killed or fatally maimed (by a device such as an IED, for instance) on the battlefield. That is a spurious use of the term, even if the glorification of the war and the act of a soldier dying "for the freedom of Americans" (especially when the term is heavily loaded and is deemed at best legitimate) seems like a noble, patriotic sacrifice for the country.

If conservatives ardently objected to Hayes' contentious statement, all they had to do was to state where he was wrong if they believe he is not right. Nope, all they did was resorting to name-calling, assassinating his character, and smearing him in the name of preserving the modern right wing-fueled military establishment.

If conservatives care about the troops as much as they say they do, then perhaps they can explain to anyone who isn't at the ripe young age of five years old as to why the military-industrial complex remunerates those fallen soldiers meager wages (which haven't been increased in years) and provides crummy Veterans Affairs-backed TriCare and housing that they have to pay for themselves (despite the lie stating the opposite), not to mention invalidating their right to vote (when they have to work long hours that prevent them from showing up at the election polls every four years)? Can someone with a backbone please justify that logic for me?

Conservatives who attack Hayes' First Amendment-protected rights will play the patriot card to their advantage as long as it benefits them and their corporate statist allies who want to keep the flow of the profits of the war profiteering coming. This isn't done to protect the troops; it's done to protect the status quo at the expense of the troops and the American taxpayers who will have to keep funding these military boondoggles.

And remember this much - the conservatives are merely biblically and patriotically correct, which, like the Left's own brand of political correctness, is used to protect popular speech from unpopular speech that is by default protected by the First Amendment (and not the other way around). It is a political weapon to protect the right's brand of free speech that must never be allowed to dissent and/or deviated from, because it is the State's own correct ideology. The individual doesn't matter in their eyes; only the massive State does, even though they hide behind limited statism (a.k.a. "small government") to justify its own existence.

Hayes' subsequent unnecessary apology serves as a reminder that, if you're going to state what you believe, then you must stand by your principles, whether you're right or wrong and regardless of how others feel about the situation. His principles have to mean something; otherwise, what's the point of stating them if they contain no meaning and no truth? But Hayes took the cowardly way out and refused to stand his ground. It didn't even please the conservatives anyway, because they were too busy hating him for not only making the statements but also for daring to make them in the first place.

The statists in the two major party camps are cheerleading this war and engaging in political masturbation, but one of them is rhapsodizing censorship. That's not a surprise, because the conservative war on free speech and dissent from the State has been unleashed upon us.

This time they're using the military as an excuse to justify it. Here comes the right wing open-warfare attack campaign on freedom of speech! The war has begun.