AP reports today that some veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, including a first-term congressman, are questioning the low number of medals that have been awarded in these two wars: six. In comparison, 244 were awarded in the Vietnam war. The military argues that the current wars don’t present the same opportunities for incredible heroism, something which the veterans question. I think I’m with the military on this one.
The only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient that I’ve ever met is Charles Liteky, a former Catholic priest and Army chaplain who saved over 20 wounded men during a savage battle in Vietnam by carrying them from the battlefield to a safe zone while dodging enemy fire. Read his wikipedia entry, it is incredible what this man did. I cannot imagine that valor like his is particularly common.
I came across Liteky through Mike’s work with School of the Americas Watch (Mike was responsible for scanning and ocr’ing the lists of SOA graduates and their “torture” manuals’; after his work the School of the Americas started denying requests for new lists of graduates.) Liteky is (was?) fully involved in the organization, “crossing” the line in peaceful demonstrations to bring attention to the perverse work of the School of the Americas. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s the American military institution that instructs Latin American military on how to fight social movements at home. It was one of the institutions where the doctrine of national security was developed and disseminated. Many of its graduates have been accused of committing crimes against humanity. Liteky has been arrested and sent to prison several times for his peaceful protests – even as he entered his 70’s. And continues fighting the good fight.
I would hope that the Medal of Honor not suffer the fate of the Presidential Medal of Freedom which is given almost exclusively for political considerations (Bush gave it to people who are likely to have committed crimes against humanity themselves). Hopefully it will continue meaning something – but as our cultures becomes a greater and greater celebrator of mediocracy, it’s unlikely that it will.