A Vietnam vet warns Bush backers are "playing a dangerous, self-destructive game" by trashing John Kerry's Purple Heart. Plus: Readers respond to P.W. Singer's two-part story, "Outsourcing the War."

Salon Staff
April 23, 2004 1:53AM (UTC)

[Read "John Kerry's First Purple Heart," by Douglas Brinkley.]

It is hard to believe what the right won't do to discredit veterans of foreign war. During 2000, there was the scurrilous whispering campaign against John McCain. Then they poked fun at Al Gore as a reporter in the Army, even though he got a lot closer to a Viet Cong bullet than Bush ever did. Then there was the 2002 trashing of Max Cleland (led most appallingly by Ann Coulter).


And now it's John Kerry's Purple Heart. Papa Bush ought to hang his head in shame at what these chickenhawks are doing in his son's name. Military women and men, listen up: Your lives, your sacrifice means nothing to the right. You're just chum!

-- Deedee Arnelle

Folks, three things:


1. I don't recall anyone putting himself in for a Purple Heart. Mine arrived via shopping cart while I was bed-bound at a Quang Tre MASH. I didn't know that guys could ask for them. I did turn down two additional PHs once I got back to the States. (Or maybe they tried to give me the first medal two more times.) That pissed people off; the brass like to give out medals. So on that score alone, Hibbard's got shit in his mouth. He would have been a mighty proud lifer to have one of his boys rack a PH.

2. Concerning fakes: If any fuckhead is stupid enough to claim ownership of a PH that does not belong to him, there's a big cottage industry of really nasty people who will take pleasure in making his life one definitive hell. These would be the folks who actually earned Purple Hearts. Fakers get confronted in public, in front of their families, their co-workers, their Boy Scout troops, wherever it's possible to inflict the most humiliation. There's no sympathy for these people. So if Kerry had worked some kind of game on a Purple Heart, he would have been hideously outed long before this. There's an army of war vets (and the widows of war vets) with nothing better to do than to hunt down fakes and frauds. Kerry would have been toast in the '70s, courtesy of his work with the VVAW.

3. Regardless of politics, those who have PHs tend to be clannish. They're not nearly as exclusive as the CMH [Congressional Medal of Honor] crowd but their ties go well beyond Bill Mauldin's club "of them what's been shot at." (Mauldin was actually sheepish about his PH.) So when a drug addicted coward like Limbaugh, or any of those other vermin, talks trash about a guy's Purple Heart, he's insulting the rest of us. It's like taking on a biker gang that graduated from grenades and machine guns to lawsuits, Web sites and political campaigns. Same attitude, different toys.


The assholes who talk trash about Kerry's Purple Hearts are playing a dangerous, self-destructive game.

-- Dave Dike

You have to wonder about the mind and heart of a man and former soldier (Grant Hibbard) who is so partisan that he whines about a man who actually saw action in Vietnam, and he says nothing about a man who weasled himself out of the war by joining the National Guard.


-- Katherine Weber

[Read "Warriors for Hire in Iraq," and "Outsourcing the War," by P.W. Singer.]

A hearty thank-you to Salon for the two days of "Outsourcing the war" features; this sort of analytical reporting is precisely why I subscribe. Yet the articles do not directly confront the two most basic and troubling aspects I see to the emergence of private military corporations.


The first is a basic constitutional issue: How can America -- or any other state -- delegate its monopoly on violence done in its name to any non-governmental, non-treaty organization without violating the very nature of what it means to be a sovereign state? What right does my government have to subcontract its most basic responsibilities? What's next -- private, for-profit courts?

The second is a basic question of legality: How can the law see any violent action not taken in self-defense, that results in a fatality, committed by an employee of a private military corporation, as being anything else but murder? What right do employees of these companies have to engage in any offensive action without being charged with a crime?

While I do not think that we should have invaded Iraq in the first place, and I do not think that the occupation is making the world a safer place, my heart is nevertheless with the soldiers of all nations facing danger there. They are serving with honor, and I grieve for each life lost and pray that they may all come home safely one day, and that we will never turn our backs on them.


I cannot grieve in this manner for a slain mercenary. The profession is not an honorable one. The employees interviewed in these articles spoke of their motivation being "patriotism."

If that is the case, let them wear a real uniform and serve in the real Army.

-- Mark Meiss

I can't decide what I find most disturbing about the use of mercenaries in Iraq: The fact that the U.S. doesn't have the manpower to do the job we set out to do; the fact that private soldiers get better pay than our volunteer force; or the fact that these soldiers for hire are being used to keep costs -- and lost lives -- off the books. And what of the mercenaries wounded or killed in this war? Who will take care of them and their families? Bush? I think not.


It does not bode well for our democracy when the current administration, rather than revise its policy, hires out to fight an ill-planned and increasingly unpopular war.

It does not bode well for our democracy (or Iraq's) when our interests and ideals are defended by people who are necessarily more loyal to their paymasters, and not the ideas for which they are paid to fight.

-- David Magaro

I respectfully point out that the British East India Company built up a very large army and navy to police and control India from the mid-1700's until the mid-1800's. This was the largest private army anyone has ever created. It also used high-cost labor (European soldiers in East India Company regiments) and low-cost labor (native soldiers, as they were called or N.I., Native Infantry. All officers in the Native Infantry were British).


This system of a private army worked very well for over a hundred years at no cost to the British taxpayer. However, a large portion of the Native Infantry of "John Company" army mutinied in 1856 and set off the Indian Mutiny which took the British over a year to suppress and required the British government to send large numbers of regular British Army troops to India. After the mutiny, the British government took full control of the Indian government and the East India Company army and navy which were incorporated into the British armed forces as the Indian Army. While the Indian Army stayed separate and apart from the British Army they were both formal armed forces of the British Government. The Indian Army was financed by the British Government of India and required such measures as a punitive salt tax to keep revenues high enough to pay for the army.

Most of Britain's imperial wars, such as we are involved with in Iraq, Croatia, Afghanistan etc., were actually fought by the Indian Army and not the regular British Army. This system allowed the British government to pursue all sorts of armed ventures without alarming the voting public back in Great Britain. One suspects that similar armed "freelancing" will be conducted by the U.S. government in the future using private military forces.

-- Charles McCain

Salon Staff

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