bureaucracybusters

OLD GLORY’S FINEST HOUR–AND ITS LOWEST

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 28, 2018 at 12:40 am

Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s 1998 World War II epic, opens with a scene of an American flag snapping in the wind.

Except that the brilliant colors of Old Glory have been washed out, leaving only black-and-white stripes and black stars.

And then the movie opens—not during World war II but the present day.  

Did Spielberg know something that his audience could only sense? Such as that the United States, for all its military power, has become a pale shadow of its former glory?

May 30, 1945, marked the first Memorial Day after World War II ended in Europe. On that day, the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, near the town of Nettuno, held about 20,000 graves.  

Most were soldiers who died in Sicily, at Salerno, or at Anzio. One of the speakers at the ceremony was Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., the U.S. Fifth Army Commander. 

Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

Unlike many other generals, Truscott had shared in the dangers of combat, pouring over maps on the hood of his jeep with company commanders as bullets or shells whizzed about him.  

When it came his turn to speak, Truscott moved to the podium. Then he turned his back on the assembled visitors—which included several Congressmen.

The audience he now faced were the graves of his fellow soldiers.

Among those who heard Truscott’s speech was Bill Mauldin, the famous cartoonist for the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Mauldin had created Willie and Joe, the unshaved, slovenly-looking “dogfaces” who came to symbolize the GI.

Bill Mauldin and “Willie and Joe,” the characters he made famous

It’s from Mauldin that we have the fullest account of Truscott’s speech that day.  

“He apologized to the dead men for their presence there. He said that everybody tells leaders that it is not their fault that men get killed in war, but that every leader knows in his heart that this is not altogether true.

“He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive him, but he realized that he was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances….  

“Truscott said he would not speak of the ‘glorious’ dead because he didn’t see much glory in getting killed in your teens or early twenties.

“He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out. He said he thought it was the least he could do.

“It was the most moving gesture I ever saw,” wrote Mauldin.  

Then Truscott walked away, without acknowledging his audience of celebrities.  

Fast forward 59 years later—to March 24, 2004. 

At a White House Correspondents dinner in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush joked publicly about the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq.  

One year earlier, he had ordered the invasion of Iraq on the premise that its dictator, Saddam Hussein, possessed WMDs he intended to use against the United States.  

While an overhead projector displayed photos of a puzzled-looking Bush searching around the Oval Office, Bush recited a comedy routine.  

“Those Weapons of Mass Destruction have gotta be here somewhere,” Bush laughed, while a photo showed him poking around the corners of the Oval Office.  

“Nope—no weapons over there! Maybe there’s under here,” he said, as a photo showed him looking under a desk.  

In a scene that could have occurred under the Roman emperor Nero, an assembly of wealthy, pampered men and women—the elite of America’s media and political classes—laughed heartily during Bush’s performance. 

In short: Ha, ha! And you thought there were WMDs in Iraq? The joke’s on you, dummies!

Then fast forward another 12 years—to November 8, 2016.  

That was when the Republican party elected a five-times draft dodger named Donald Trump as President of the United States. A man who:

  • Claimed that “bone spurs” made it impossible for him to serve his country during the Vietnam war.
  • Had equated his reckless sex life during the 1970s with the risks members of the military ran in Vietnam. 
  • Has relentlessly defended Russian dictator Vladimir Putin against all criticism, even as he’s slandered literally hundreds of his fellow citizens on Twitter.   
  • Authorized his son, Donald, Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to meet with Russian Intelligence agents at Trump Tower in June, 2016. The reason for the meeting: To obtain “dirt” the Russians claimed to have on Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
  • Has rejected the findings by the FBI and CIA that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help him win the White House.
  • Ruthlessly attacked the integrity of FBI and CIA agents charged with defending the nation against subversion.
  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for investigating Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Refused to condemn Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia—as if those who opposed Fascism were as evil as those who idolized Adolf Hitler.
  • Has “joked” that it would be “great” if the United States had a “President-for-Life”—like China.

Small wonder then, that, for many people, Old Glory has taken on a darker, washed-out appearance—in real-life as in film.

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