I’d like to note that today saw the first Medal of Honor bestowed on a living recipient since the Vietnam War. SSG Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor for acts which included rescuing a comrade being carried away by the Taliban.
But this isn’t good enough for AFA’s Bryan Fischer. No, this is part of the trend of “feminizing” the Medal of Honor, because according to one reporter’s account, none of the Medals of Honor awarded in these conflicts have been for killing the enemy. Now, that’s a matter of some debate, since it’s not like a Medal of Honor citation comes with a box score, but I always thought that we awarded the Medal of Honor for, you know, honorable actions. Like, say, Sergeant York, who notably captured – not killed! – 132 Germans. Or maybe like Colonel Bud Day, who did amazing things enduring captivity as a POW. Or maybe like SFC Randy Shugart and MSG Gary Gordon, who were decorated posthumously for sacrificing themselves trying to save the crew of the downed helicopter, as told in the book Black Hawk Down.
Fischer goes on to say that dying to save others isn’t good enough because it’s not what Jesus did. According to Fischer, “Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice would ultimately have been meaningless – yes, meaningless – if he had not inflicted a mortal wound on the enemy while giving up his own life.” I grew up the daughter of a Christian theologian, and have read a bit of theology myself, and I’ve never come across this theory of grace. Heck, the guy manages to describe the Crucifixion without ever using the word grace. Fischer is trying to say that Jesus’ supreme act of self-sacrifice, submitting himself to a death decreed by someone who had no authority over him, a death as a common criminal, a death full of shame and torture, that this act was Jesus’ triumphant way of killing the Devil? Whatever Jesus was doing at the Crucifixion, I’m pretty sure that being a terrifying commanding general killing other beings wasn’t it. Notably, Shugart and Gordon were honored for going into a situation that was certain death for them where they still might not have been able to protect the air crew.
As far as the military side goes, Fischer quotes Patton about getting the other guy to die for his cause, which is all good, but Patton wasn’t running the kind of war we’re facing in Afghanistan today. Particularly in situations where one is trying to defeat an insurgency, killing the enemy just creates more of them. More people get radicalized because they’re angry that their cousin died, and those people go to work and fight for the Taliban. If you manage not to kill their cousin, they might work with the Americans, or even join the Afghan army and work on keeping the peace and suppressing the Taliban. It’s not that simple, of course, but my point here is that Fischer seems to think that saving lives isn’t good enough for the Medal of Honor. On the contrary, killing isn’t good enough for the Medal of Honor just because it’s killing – in this war, killing might be a strategic mistake.
On a side note, my husband recounted to me the time that a Medal of Honor winner from Vietnam came to speak at the Air Force Academy. He held up his medal and said, “You only get the opportunity to get one of these because somebody already really f***ed up.” That was the message he wanted to impress on these future officers: if you do your job well, nobody in your unit will have to put himself in mortal danger above and beyond the call of duty, as the citation goes. Nobody will have to die to save others, and that’s an ideal they should strive for as leaders. That makes it pretty clear that the military itself doesn’t think the goal is to get out there and kill lots of the enemy and win medals and honors for killing.
More importantly, killing isn’t honorable just because it’s killing. I think that people who struggle with trying to embody a warrior ethic, especially those who follow a path like Asatru, would argue this even more strenuously than I do. If I recall correctly, in the myths, what gets somebody entrance to Valhalla isn’t how many enemy he killed, but the way he himself died. Oh, and about feminizing – let’s just take note of Freya, the leader of the Valkyries, here, shall we? Or Scathach, for those who prefer Celtic myths. Anybody who lives up to the standards of those goddesses has my full respect as a warrior, regardless of their biological plumbing. I’d like to see Fischer try to explain to Scathach how “feminine” means “not as good a warrior.”
In fact, I would argue that if we valorize killing for its own sake, we contribute to the kind of culture that produces sick people like the accused leaders of a group of soldiers who are facing charges of murdering Afghan civilians. If those men did what they’re accused of, the leaders clearly have several things wrong with them, but just the idea that they could get other people to go along with them speaks to the lack of a warrior ethos centered on honor. The kind of honor we ought to be praising and highlighting is the kind that kills when necessary, yes, but only when necessary. And the kind that saves when possible. Like SSG Giunta. Thank you, Sergeant Giunta, and I honor you, and your comrades, because you deserve it.