The American heros you have not heard about

Mark Moyar:

Neil Sheehan began his Pulitzer-Prize winning book "A Bright Shining Lie" by pronouncing the Vietnam War "a war without heroes." In the rest of the book, the Americans in Vietnam largely came across as fools, liars, criminals, or a combination thereof, with the exception of Mr. Sheehan and his fellow journalists, who were depicted as brave unmaskers of ineptitude and absurdity. Sheehan ignored the real heroism of many brave Americans — such as Marvin Shields, Carlos McAfee, Antonio Smaldone, and Steven L. Bennett, to name but a few — and many military victories, for American triumphs did not square with his claims about the war. He badly distorted press involvement in the war so that he and his colleagues, particularly David Halberstam and Stanley Karnow, could dodge the blame they deserved for promoting the disastrous coup against the South Vietnamese government in November 1963.

The Vietnam-era journalists began a tradition that today's press consistently upholds. We hear very little from most large press outlets about American heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan, men like James Coffman Jr., Danny Dietz, and Christopher Adlesperger, or about our military successes there. Instead of associating such names with these wars, Americans associate the words they hear most often from the press, like Abu Ghraib and Haditha. As in Vietnam, too, the shunning of heroes does not extend to the press's coverage of itself. Awards to journalists, both those who have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who have not, are considered worthy of lengthy news stories.

Publicizing American heroism and success is essential today for two reasons. First, it permits a nuanced view of Iraq and Afghanistan, one which cannot be discerned from the daily stories of sectarian murders and the photos of American troops who have just been killed. Second, American troops and the American people become more courageous and resolute when they hear of their countrymen's military heroism and success, past and present. In earlier times, Americans ingrained their traditions of heroism and victory into the country's youth through historical instruction. Today's history textbooks largely ignore America's military past, a reflection of the anti-military prejudices, lack of military experience, and cosmopolitanism that pervade the intelligentsia.

Most Americans outside of academia and the mainstream press, on the other hand, still understand the importance of military tradition, and they crave stories about valorous Americans at war. We are fortunate, therefore, to have "Don't Tread on Me: A 400-Year History of America at War, From Indian Fighting to Terrorist Hunting" (Crown, 464 pages, $27.50) to satisfy that yearning. In witty and irreverent prose, author H.W. Crocker III provides a broad survey of America's martial history, starting at the arrival of the first English colonists and ending with the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the great military men whom Mr. Crocker profiles are some who remain widely known because they later became president (Jackson, Taylor, Theodore Roosevelt), or because their renown is too enormous to hide (Douglas MacArthur, George Patton). But most are men whose fame has been dimmed by the neglect of the cultural elites.


There is more including references to some of the heroes in the book. The book also talks about some unheroic chapters of US military history, Moyar is the author of "Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965." It is an excellent book that I am about a third of the way through. I will have a review of soon. I have long shared Moyar's view of the Vietnam era Pulitzer winners. Not because of their role in pushing for the Diem coup, which he writes about, but because they were just flat wrong in their underlying premise about the insurgency in Vietnam and its importance to the war.


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