VFW Doesn’t Do Nuance

The big conservative brouhaha du jour is phony outrage over Chris Hayes’ ruminations on his MSNBC show about the indiscriminate use of the word “heroes” with respect to fallen solidiers. Here’s the key graph in Chris’ rap:

I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

This is hardly spitting on the graves of the war dead, is it? But after lots of agitation from conservative media outlets, the Veterans of Foreign War, exercising an extreme version of what the Right would call “political correctness” in any other context, blasted Hayes and MSNBC:

“Chris Hayes’ recent remarks on MSNBC regarding our fallen service members are reprehensible and disgusting,” VFW National Commander Richard DeNoyer said in a statement to FoxNews.com. “His words reflect his obvious disregard for the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have paid the ultimate price while defending our nation. His insipid statement is particularly callous because it comes at a time when our entire nation pauses to reflect and honor the memory of our nations’ fallen heroes.”

He continued: “It is especially devastating to the many broken-hearted children, spouses and parents, left behind to grieve for a loved one. Such an ignorant and uncaring and blatant disregard for people’s deep feelings are indefensible, and that is why the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States demand that Mr. Hayes and MSNBC provides an immediate and unequivocal apology.”

While they were at it, the VFW might have expressed a few words of dismay at the regular exploitation of fallen soldiers by conservative pols and garden-variety militarists who want to borrow some of that heroism to grind their many axes, often at the expense of present and future men and women in uniform. That is part, of course, of what Chris Hayes was talking about in expressing his ambiguity about the term “heroes.”

But I guess the VFW doesn’t do nuance, and is “fair and balanced” only in the sense of Fox News.

My main issue with Hayes’ statement is that he is conceding the conflation of the courage and sacrifice of armed services members with the jingoism and chickenhawk tough-talk by which they are exploited. Putting your life on the line for your country is heroism. Leading your country into useless or immoral military conflict, or identifying patriotism with the abandonment of American values and the destruction of American honor, is something like the opposite of heroism. You don’t have to be terribly nuanced to understand the difference. I don’t expect the members of the wingnutosphere who are piling onto Chris Hayes to acknowledge any of this. But any veterans group should know better.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.