Lawyers at war: ‘Heroism’ has lost any meaning


It’s a ways off but this Veterans Day let’s vow to use the distinction “hero” with more precision. The mass media has gotten into the habit of assigning it to all dead veterans, preferably ones outside the conservative sphere.

Reading such a hero’s recent obituary, I took down the family military medals from a box on my book shelf. The more recent veterans who did not see combat received more medals than those who actually fought. I counted them.

One of the World War II veterans, a man who as a boy traveled by horse and buggy, was among the first to land a plane on an aircraft carrier at night. He also was one of the first to survive a catapult failure, which dumped him into the Pacific Ocean and beneath the props of his carrier.

A medal? “No,” was his response, “the Navy doesn’t give you a medal for losing an airplane.”

Another’s bomber was shot down in Europe. Wounded, he spent two years in a German prisoner of war camp. Same response.

They give medals for less than that now — much less. Have you ever noticed that Douglas MacArthur didn’t wear medals. Know that David Petraeus could barely walk from the weight of them.

I was given a medal in Vietnam for merely being in the general area where a single mortar shell landed. I may have been asleep in my bunk at the time.

So, even in its measure of heroism the country seems confused. This Veterans’ Day we are sure to be in an Orwellian struggle to even understand what “war” means or what “colluding” with an “enemy” involves. We are, alas, lawyers at war.

Indeed, during the Obama administration, Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal reported there were 10,000 lawyers in the Department of Defense.

“No one goes to war in this country until those Defense lawyers — plus lawyers at the Justice Department and White House — define in detail the parameters of battle,” he observed.

In the interest of getting back to a historically true definition of heroism, I again propose a standard, one developed without any legal input whatsoever. It is in the person of British Lt. Col. John “Mad Jack” Churchill.

Churchill, in command of a World War II beach landing against a German garrison, did not bother negotiating flyover rights to strike the enemy unexpectedly from the sky. He leapt from his landing craft as the ramp was being lowered playing “March of the Cameron Men” on his bagpipes before tossing a grenade and running into battle wielding a Scottish Claybeg broadsword.

Later, Churchill, with the help of a corporal, would capture a German observation post, taking 42 prisoners, including an intact mortar squad, perhaps with the refrain from his bagpipe tune being sung at full voice:

The moon has arisen, it shines on that path,

Now trod by the gallant and true;

High, high are their hopes, for their chieftain hath said

That whatever men dare they can do.

That goes in the box with those old medals.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review. Send comments to [email protected].

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