Reverence for service goes AWOL

I have no idea when reverence fled these shores. That it did, however, seems obvious.

What else can you conclude when the service of military men becomes a routine object of mockery and misinformation in the name of politics? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you John McCain: traitor.

In most quarters, of course, the senator is regarded as anything but. In those quarters, he is a war hero, having survived over five years of beatings, solitary confinement and deprivation in a Vietnamese prison camp, even refusing an offer of early release because it meant leaving fellow prisoners behind.

But John Aravosis, who blogs on, has a different take. In a posting last Sunday, he accused McCain of “disloyalty” because at one point, his captors tortured him into reading a propaganda statement.

I submit that Aravosis would read a statement denouncing his own mother if you beat him long enough. Most of us would. We would trust mom to understand that we did what we needed to to survive. We would trust that 40 years later, no one would raise this as proof of “disloyalty.”

That Aravosis has done precisely that is bizarre, shameful and crude — but not unprecedented.

Swift Boat II: The Revenge

Indeed, if you were making a movie out of this, you'd call it “Swift Boat II: The Revenge,” after the equally bizarre, equally shameful and equally crude 2004 attacks on John Kerry, another senator who was regarded as a war hero. Kerry was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for braving enemy fire while wounded to rescue a Special Forces officer. But that heroism was slimed (Kerry was never under fire, they claim) by people working for the re-election of a president who served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War and a vice president who dodged service altogether. GOP convention delegates even mocked Kerry's wounds, sporting bandages bearing purple hearts.

Some may feel McCain is simply the gander being served a sauce first tasted by the goose. But it seems to me that something has gone haywire in a nation that forgets how to revere the service of military men and women, a nation where a Max Cleland can leave three limbs in Vietnam, yet have his patriotism questioned, or a John Murtha can serve as a Marine for 37 years, yet be called a coward.

I make no case for sainthood for those or any other military personnel. I make no case that military service exempts you from criticism, however vigorous and sharp. No, the case I make is for simple respect.

Demeaning sacrifice

Maybe I am hypersensitive, maybe just old-fashioned by the standards of an era that regards earnestness as a character flaw. Still, it strikes me as viscerally wrong, offensive at the mitochondrial level, to trivialize, demean or diminish, particularly for political gain, a man's service and sacrifice on behalf of his country.

Where did reverence go? Was it voted off the island on “Survivor”? Did it fail its audition to be the next “American Idol”? Was it not sexy enough for “America's Next Top Model,” or ruthless enough for “The Apprentice”? Maybe it can't survive an era where irony is the preferred prism, irreverence the preferred pose and our lives are so self-referential, so much me me me, that for entertainment we watch ourselves watching ourselves.

We pin flags to our lapels, tack ribbons to our bumpers, and yes, some of us do so in earnestness. But for many of us, I think these are simply props, a means to display what we are supposed to feel but, as children of a shallow, glittery time, are no longer able to. After all, feeling implies reverence.

And reverence doesn't live here anymore.