By now, I think we’ve all heard the president’s disparaging remarks about veterans. In an article in The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that numerous witnesses heard Trump make excuses for not visiting the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in 2018. Trump was to visit there on November 10, 2018 to mark the armistice’s 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. This coincided with the 243rd birthday of the Marine Corps. One of Trump’s excuses was the rainy weather might mess up his hair, his fucking hair. It looks like shit on the best of days, and he’s worried what a little rain might do to it! Officially, he said, “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. All of the other world leaders drove there, but Trump couldn’t be bothered, saying, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”
While many of you might not know about the importance of the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, most of you know I’m a World War I historian. I want to tell you why that cemetery is significant. It is located 53.5 miles outside of Paris (roughly an hour-long drive) and contains the headstones of 2,289 soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) mostly from the Battle of Belleau Wood, and the larger campaign in the Marne Valley. One of those “losers” was Lt. Weedon Osborne of Chicago, a Medal of Honor recipient. His citation for the medal reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while attached to the Fifth Regiment, United States Marines, in actual conflict with the enemy and under fire during the advance on Bouresche, France on June 6 1918. In the hottest of the fighting when the Marines made their famous advance on Bouresche at the southern edge of Belleau Wood, Lieutenant (j.g.) Osborne threw himself zealously into the work of rescuing the wounded. Extremely courageous in the performance of this perilous task, he was killed while carrying a wounded officer to a place of safety. By his exceptional fortitude, inspiring initiative, and selfless devotion to duty, Lieutenant (j.g.) Osborne reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Osborne was obviously no “loser.” He had “exceptional fortitude, inspiring initiative, and selfless devotion to duty,” which Donald Trump does not. He selflessly sought to aid the wounded during the Battle of Belleau Wood, and was killed while carrying an injured officer to safety on June 6, 1918.
Alongside the Battles of Fallujah, Khe Sanh, Chosin, and Iwo Jima, the Battle of Belleau Wood occupies a hallowed place in U.S. Marine Corps lore and history. Every U.S. Marine knows the famous quotes from the Marines fighting in the 1918 battle: “Retreat, hell we just got here!” by Capt. Lloyd Williams who received three Silver Star citations and a Purple Heart, and “C’mon you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever?” by Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daley one of only nineteen men to have received the Medal of Honor twice.
The battlefield of Belleau Wood lays about five miles west of the town of Château-Thierry the site of another AEF battle. Looking at the strategic context in early 1918, Belleau Wood was only a small piece of a major campaign that saw the American forces help French and British armies stem the onslaught of the massive German Spring Offensive. On March 21, the Germans launched their attack along the Western Front in France. This was made possible because a peace treaty with the new Russian Bolshevik government had freed up German units deployed on the Eastern Front. The German leadership hoped the influx of 50 divisions could overwhelm the Allied forces in France bringing the war to an end before millions of American reinforcements could cross the Atlantic. The Spring Offensive nearly reached Paris coming close enough to shell the city. The loss of Paris would have likely resulted in a German victory in WWI. However, while the German offensive made significant gains in the first few weeks of the battle, they began to falter by May during the Aisne Offensive. The German assault was weakened because American units like the 2nd Division and its 4th Marine Brigade joined the fray to stop the Germans at the Battle of Belleau Wood.
After three weeks of intense combat, a report announced the 4th Marine Brigade’s success with the message, “Belleau Wood now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.” The French government renamed it Bois de la Brigade de Marine to honor the incredible sacrifices and fierce struggles there and awarded members of the 4th Marine Brigade the French Croix de Guerre. Although a victory for the Americans, the Battle of Belleau Wood exacted a heavy toll on the 4th Marine Brigade. Of its complement of 9,500 men, the brigade suffered 1,000 killed in action, and 4,000 wounded, gassed, or missing equaling a 55 percent casualty rate.
General Pershing, commander of the AEF said, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle.” Pershing also said, “the Battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy.” The battle had been brutal. “It has been a living hell,” Lt. Clifton B. Cates, 24, a future Marine Corps commandant wrote to his mother. “We were shelled all night with shrapnel and gas shells. [….] It was mustard gas and a lot of the men were burned.” It was a battle that changed the Marine Corps. “For all intents and purposes, the old warriors of the U.S. Marine Corps were virtually wiped out,” wrote historian, George B. Clark.
In a separate conversation on the 2018 trip, Trump referred to the 1,811 soldiers and Marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed. Trump also asked aides, “Who were the good guys in this war?” He couldn’t understand why the United States would intervene on the side of the Allies. While I realize the U.S. entry into WWI is complicated and controversial, Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points stated the principles for peace that were to be used for negotiations to end World War I, and are a good starter for understanding the entry of the United States into the Great War. The ideas expressed by Wilson’s Fourteen Points included free trade, open diplomacy, national self-determination, and the League of Nations; ideas which remain as relevant today as they were a century ago. Wilson transformed the primary objective of American foreign policy from isolation to internationalism.
Trump could learn a lot from Wilson, whose vision of a world made safe and prosperous by the collective action of all nations, is a cornerstone of U.S. diplomacy. Instead of looking to Wilson for his positive attributes, Trump is more closely aligned with Wilson’s negative characteristics. Wilson tolerated no dissent during the war, and authorized serious violations of Americans’ civil liberties in his quest for victory. Playing to his base, Trump has incessantly targeted the most vulnerable. His anti-immigrant measures began with the Muslim ban. He has separated families, detained individuals who posed no threat to others or risk of flight, sought to deny asylum because they were directly contrary to the statute, and attempted to rescind protected status for the Dreamers.
Sadly, Wilson’s zest for humanitarian justice did not extend to African-Americans. He supported segregation in government departments and did little to stop the waves of anti-black violence and race riots that swept over the land during his administration particularly in the years after the war. In the present day, Trump praised white supremacists in Charlottesville as “very fine people” and referred to African countries as “shitholes.” His Justice Department sought to back off from consent decrees requiring police to treat their citizens with equal respect and dignity. And he has done nothing to help ease the current racial tensions in the United States instead fanning the flames of his conservative base by disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement.
For those who might not believe the allegations in The Atlantic article, look at the statements he’s made about military personnel in interviews and speeches. He has no respect for anyone who might do something selfless because he cannot fathom doing something that would not benefit him personally. To quote The Atlantic article:
“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told me. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain.”
Retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis shared The Atlantic article on Twitter and described the military’s cemeteries as “sacred shrines to those who have given everything.” Stavardis suggested the lack of denials by John Kelly and retired Marine General Jim Mattis, Trump’s former Chief of Staff and Defense Secretary respectively were notable. Senior and former military leaders have struggled with how to respond to a report that Trump referred to U.S. service members killed in combat as “losers,” as the president attacked the allegations as “fake news.” The only thing fake here is Trump’s patriotism.
Trump lacks empathy when he lashes out at critics. Instead, he reaches for petty insults. His contempt for service and heroism extends to events throughout history. Trump finds the notion of military service challenging to understand, and volunteering to serve especially incomprehensible. Remember, the president has never served in the military but claims his attendance at New York Military Academy was an equivalent to military service. He also made the idiotic statement comparing his efforts to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases to the Vietnam War saying it constituted his “personal Vietnam.”
And if you still think he’s not lying when he denies the allegations in The Atlantic article, he can’t even tell the simple truth about the 2018 trip. Trump told reporters over the weekend he “called home” to Melania at the time and told her how upset he was for not being able to visit the cemetery. Trump claimed, “I spoke to my wife and I said, I hate this. I came here to go to that ceremony. And to the one the following day which I did go to. I feel terribly. And that was the end of it.” The truth about this is he couldn’t have “called home” because Melania was on the same trip and was scheduled to attend the cemetery visit with him!
And what did Trump do instead of visiting the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery? He spent hours on that Saturday afternoon holed up watching television inside the U.S. ambassador’s residence. Later that night, Trump and Melania had dinner with French President Emanuel Macron. He could watch TV and have a fancy dinner, but he could not be bothered to visit a cemetery for soldiers who died in one of the United States’ most significant battles in World War I. He is a total disgrace. He needs to be voted out of office along with all of those who have supported him, because, without the Senate’s support, he would not still be our president.
While I find Trump’s remarks and lack of empathy for our military men and women deplorable, I find it even more upsetting that Fox News and his rabid base do not believe The Atlantic article could contain any truth. Saturday, my mother called. I think you know by now she is a loyal Trump supporter. After asking me if I had called her because she had three phone calls she couldn’t answer and doesn’t know how to use Caller ID, she began to tell me, “I just told your sister that we need to pray that Donald Trump is reelected.” To which I, in turn, brought up the allegations in The Atlanticarticle. Her response was, “You don’t believe that mess, do you?” I told her, “Why wouldn’t I believe it? Considering what he has said in the past about veterans, and especially since he called John McCain a loser.” His base doesn’t care what he does as long as he is part of the Republican Party.
My mother is not the only one to claim The Atlantic article is fake news. Saturday evening, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro called the claims “absurd,” and Greg Gutfeld, another Fox News host, called the Atlantic’s story “a hoax” and “a scam” that was “created in a lab.” However, Fox News seems to be divided on whether the claims are valid. Fox’s national security correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, confirmed the allegations. Conor Powell, a former Fox News foreign correspondent, backed up Griffin’s report saying, “Jennifer is a straight shooter and always pursues reporting with the goal of uncovering the truth.” Anchor Neil Cavuto then endorsed Griffin’s work. “Jennifer, you are a very good reporter,” he told her. Then, addressing his audience, he said, “She’s pretty scrupulous when it comes to making sure all the I’s are dotted, all the t’s are crossed.” Senior Political Analyst for Fox News, Brit Hume tweeted, “This is bullshit. Jen plays it straight and always has.” Hume’s tweet was in response to a tweet by Steve Milloy, a Fox News contributor, who claimed Griffin was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe, just maybe, some Fox News enthusiasts and Trump supporters will see the light and realize the article was not a hoax.
Let’s vote for someone who cares about our veterans. Someone who is the father of a veteran. Vote for Biden on November 3, 2020.
P.S. I felt this post was more important and timely than my usual Tuesday poetry post. The poetry post will be postponed until tomorrow.