Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The big man and the military

-- by Dave

Jane Hamsher had a capital idea (seconded by Wesley Clark) the other day: It's time to get Rush Limbaugh off Armed Forces Radio.

Not just because he insulted dissenting soldiers in Iraq as "phony," or because he's a right-wing ideologue who constantly runs down uniformed Americans as insufficiently patriotic if they disagree with his political agenda -- though those should be cause enough.

The main reason Rush should be removed from Armed Forces Radio is that his divisive and corrosive influence on the national dialogue has been a significant influence in alienating men and women in the services from the rest of the public. He's played a leading role, along with his choruses in the wingnutosphere and the Village, in convincing a significant bloc of our soldiers that they're being stabbed in the back by weak-kneed traitors at home, civilians incapable of appreciating the sacrifices involved in war.

This theme has been a steady feature of Limbaugh's radio broadcasts since we invaded Iraq in March 2003, and it has gotten nastier and louder as time has gone on. A critical component, of course, has entailed Limbaugh's patented attacks on any soldier, officer, or veteran -- let alone a mere politician -- who dares to suggest that the war in Iraq is what it is, namely, a misbegotten tragedy of catastrophic proportions. Franklin Foser noted this:
Think about how much time and effort they expend on convincing Americans that progressives and Democrats are "anti-military," "hate the troops," and even "hate America." So any progressive veteran who criticizes Bush administration policies represents a profound threat to all the arguments they have made. It becomes particularly thorny when nearly the entire current leadership of the conservative movement -- not only media figures like Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, but also political figures including President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and many others -- were of draft age during the Vietnam war but managed to stay out of harm's way.

Joe Conason's piece this week on Limbaugh similarly details just how far he's gone in attacking uniformed veterans:
Only in a media environment where conservatives have long felt exempt from scrutiny would Limbaugh still feel free to mock the military service of those who disagree with him. He is, after all, a certified chicken-hawk who cheered on the Vietnam War as it ground up tens of thousands of young Americans, but saw no reason why he should serve. His local draft board in a Missouri county, where his family enjoyed political influence, granted him a 1-Y deferment after he dropped out of college and forfeited his student deferment. Explaining how he escaped the draft, he has cited both a "bad knee" and a cyst on his backside that supposedly rendered him medically unfit.

Despite that undistinguished record, however, he has never hesitated to denigrate the service of Sen. John Kerry, former Sen. Tom Daschle and other Democrats who volunteered to wear the nation's uniform. He spent hours repeating the "Swift boat" lies when Kerry ran for president in 2004. And now he insinuates that the troops and vets who question this war are "phony soldiers."

What really worries Limbaugh and his right-wing comrades is that more and more of those who bravely serve America abroad, from foot soldiers to flag officers, have begun to voice their anger at the reckless policies that have cost them so dearly. Leaders of VoteVets, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans organized in support of smarter security policy, have angrily challenged Limbaugh to repeat his slur to their faces — something he is most unlikely to do.

Unsurprisingly, the right has been circling the wagons around Limbaugh. As Foser observes:
Yet you would have had trouble finding too many Republicans in Washington willing to step forward and condemn Limbaugh, or do what Democrats are asked to do whenever a progressive anywhere says something controversial, and "distance themselves" from his remarks. Why? Because Rush Limbaugh is one of the most important components of the conservative spin machine. After all, when Republicans scored their dramatic electoral victory in 1994, they named him an honorary member of the 104th Congress. He'll have to go a lot further than insulting soldiers to get them to turn on him.

Almost as predictably, the Democratic response, as Digby notes, has been almost comically clueless. Simply shaking their fingers at Limbaugh is a gesture so meaningless that it actually just underscores their weakness. The only meaningful action they could and should take would be to boot him from our servicemen's taxpayer-funded radio broadcasts.

At the same time, the right's defense have been nearly as comical. Jonah Goldberg, for instance, wondered if anyone could show him an real examples of conservatives questioning liberals' patriotism -- a question so readily answered that all Goldberg could do was shrug "Touche."

Indeed, the genuinely divisive nature of Limbaugh's rhetoric is the reason he doesn't belong on radio broadcasts to our armed forces. As Digby also observes:
He has been spewing dangerous eliminationist bile about liberals in general for years and he tells our troops in Iraq every single day on Armed Forces Radio, paid for by you and me, that the Democrats are unpatriotic traitors, which really is reprehensible.

This is particularly the case in a climate where hate groups and other extremists, including neo-Nazis, are making actual inroads into the ranks of the military. Because ugly stab-in-the-back rhetoric is what's known to fuel these characters in the first place; giving them a daily dose of Limbaugh is just pouring LOX on the fire. Talk about the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School -- it isn't hard to predict the long-term impact on our coming political landscape.

Naturally, it isn't just Limbaugh who's spewing this kind of divisive rhetoric aimed at the troops. Virtually every right-wing pundit on the planet has at one time or another accused liberals of being treasonous scum, while portraying opposition to the war as "not supporting the troops." A prime example: Ann Coulter describing Rep. John Murtha as "the reason soldiers invented fragging."

You can already see the divisive "us (the soldiers) vs. them (the public)" mindset infecting the current military culture, especially among the Christian warrior types, who are getting hyped up on that train them to shoot liberals and non-Christians who won't convert.

Mind you, religion is a subject Limbaugh typically avoids, but he makes a practice of openly scorning non-Christians (especially atheists) and liberal Christians -- that is, he aligns himself on the side of the fundamentalist angels at every step. So it's not surprising that -- Oxycontin and trips to the Caribbean notwithstanding -- some of his biggest fans are also committed religious conservatives.

Thus it's also not surprising to see Limbaugh's divisive worldview manifesting itself in the religious sphere in the military, and with a decidedly eliminationist flavor. We're starting to see more and more reports about non-Christians being urged to convert, and for atheists to be threatened.

Jane Lampman at the Christian Science Monitor earlier this week had a piece exploring the question: "Are U.S. troops being force-fed Christianity?" It begins with an increasingly common anecdote:
At Speicher base in Iraq, US Army Spec. Jeremy Hall got permission from a chaplain in August to post fliers announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the group gathered, Specialist Hall alleges, his Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against him, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army.

Months earlier, Hall charges, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a Thanksgiving Day prayer.

Kay Campbell at the Hunstville Times in Alabama explored this in even more detail:
In the midst of their fight to bring freedom to Iraq and Afghanistan, some American soldiers are finding their own freedoms threatened by the troops on their own side.

Though the U.S. Constitution mandates that the government apply no test of faith for employment - and, one presumes, deployment - of American citizens, soldiers who are open about being non-believers can face harassment and ostracizing from fellow troops and their officers, some say.

"We didn't let anyone know we were atheists," said Steve Moore of Huntsville, who served two tours in Iraq as an Army staff sergeant.

... What most soldiers do not get, however, are threats of "fragging" over their beliefs. Fragging is military slang for death by friendly fire.

Fragging is mentioned in statements e-mailed to a North Carolina native who organized a meeting of atheists at his base in Iraq in August.

The threats came after Army Spc. Jeremy Hall, 22, filed suit Sept. 17, against the Department of Defense and Maj. Freddy Welborn, for an incident in which he says Welborn told a group of atheists that they were disgracing their country and threatened to bar Hall's re-enlistment.

One of the more praiseworthy aspects of Ken Burns' current PBS series The War is how well it portrays the whole enterprise as a thoroughgoing American affair, drawing citizens from every walk and station of life. That, in fact, is for many men and women in uniform the real meaningful source of pride in the military.

Thanks to the rampaging, out-of-control conservative movement -- and especially its great mouthpiece, Rush Limbaugh -- we are at risk of losing that. It's time to get his voice out of our soldiers' eardrums by taking it out of taxpayer-funded broadcasts. It will only be the first step in fixing the problem, but it will be a good one.

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