Down With Chris Hayes (In This Case)
One of my most prized possessions is a photo is of my then three-year-old daughter bending down at a plain white marble gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery. It belongs to her great-grandfather.
Wilton Willis Ashburn was born in 1898 and fought in World War I in the Navy. For his exemplary service, he was awarded a spot of hallowed ground a stone’s throw from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in the cemetery where thousands of veterans have been laid to rest.
These are not just men, not just women, but heroes. Every last one of them. They are soldiers who put the safety of their country ahead of their own so that thoughtless talking heads like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes — who have never stepped foot inside of a barracks — can have the freedom to say that he is “uncomfortable” with the word “heroes” as it relates to all soldiers.
On Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, the host of Up with Chris Hayes he blurted this profoundly out-of-touch comment about military heroes: He is “uncomfortable about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.”
Chris, my ancestors include many others besides my grandfather who have fought as far back as the Civil War. It’s hard to imagine the privileged life you have led that flashing red lights wouldn’t go off in your mind before questioning the immense sacrifice our military soldiers.
His comments sparked an outcry, and rightfully so, with many demanding an apology, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars. By Monday, the Rachel Maddow fill-in bowed to his detractors with this well-crafted apology. But the damage was done.
“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.”
Military families are the backbone of our society. Maybe, Chris, you should get to know a few. The perk of getting your own TV show is that you get to say whatever you want. It’s a privilege, not something to take lightly especially when it comes to those who have decided to risk being killed instead of sit in a studio and spout whatever comes to mind.
Yes, there is a civilian-military divide in our country at this particular point in history. And you just made it worse.
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