MSNBC host Chris Hayes did something dangerous last weekend -- he tried to think. And Congressman Allen West isn't happy about it.
In a weekend in which cable news channels filled hours of time with teary-eyed flag-waving, Hayes wanted to have a discussion about the word hero.
"It is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the word hero. Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word hero?" he said. "I feel uncomfortable with the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.
"And I obviously don't want to desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that has fallen. Obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is tremendous heroism. You know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that's problematic, but maybe I'm wrong about that."
He then turned this discussion over to other panelists on his show, who didn't really voice a dissenting opinion. So Hayes did it himself, saying that voluntary service in the armed forces is a massive commitment.
"The argument on the other side of that is, we don't have a draft," he said. "They're taking [on the risks of war] because they're bound to all of us through this social contract, through this democratic process of self-governance in which we decide collectively that we're going to go to war... They also give up their own agency in a certain way that, for a liberal caricature like myself, seems very difficult to comprehend."
He concluded, "And if the word hero is not right, there's something about it that's noble, right?"
That's what Chris Hayes said. He wanted to look at the word hero because "it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war."
Well, West is quite angry about it. He wrote on Facebook last night that NBC should force Hayes to stand outside of Walter Reed Medical Center.
"Just left visiting our Wounded Warriors at the new Walter Reed Medical Center at Betheseda. It is such a humbling experience and deepens my resolve to Honor them by fighting for our Military and the restoration of our Republic," West wrote, using his TradEmark arBitrary CApitAlization. "The insidious words of MSNBC's Chris Hayes this past weekend evidences why NBC Management should force him to stand outside for 12 hours, 0600 - 1800, and greet each of these exceptional Men and Women, and address them as 'American Hero'. His apology statement is worthless."
West never explained what in particular he was mad about, because West never gets too deep into any of his statements -- they're not deep enough to explain.
The problem here is that somebody was questioning the traditional narrative to which West clings so desperately -- Hayes didn't insult anyone, didn't diminish anyone's service. He wanted to take a minute to think about all this rhetoric getting thrown around about war, the kind of rhetoric that got West into office in the first place.
What Hayes did was a good thing -- for Memorial Day, for those in the armed forces, and for our democracy. Whether he was right doesn't matter -- he was questioning. Yes, those who serve in the military are deserving of respect, and yes, visiting wounded veterans in the hospital is nice to do. But those men and women West visited are missing arms and legs and parts of their psyches because we sent them somewhere to kill people, and it is a dangerous exercise to honor our wounded warriors without questioning what cause they were wounded for and how many more will end up in wheelchairs at Walter Reed or caskets at Dover for those causes or others that our leaders cook up.
Maybe Memorial Day weekend wasn't the time for Hayes to have this discussion. But maybe Memorial Day weekend was the exact time to have this discussion -- maybe we'd have fewer dead Americans to memorialize if we took a moment to think of war as a little less glorious, or at least how we glorify it.
But when it comes to West's statement, Hayes' appropriateness is irrelevant. The most troubling part about West's statement is that a congressman who has made a political career out of shouting words like liberty, freedom, and Constitution is so very quick to call for the penalization of an opinion that differs from his own. Doesn't sound particularly democratic to me.
But the freedoms of "our Republic" are secondary to West whenever there's the opportunity for a war-related sound bite -- he's transformed himself into the go-to yeller of things when it comes to matters military, and, whether it's a debate over a broadcaster's statements or a House debate on indefinite detention, West will choose the military over all else, including remaining quiet.
He raged about leaving troops "hanging," and about how we need to fight the enemy, and about how dare the administration provide a draw-down date for Afghanistan. West said we were going to "repeat Vietnam."
"We restricted funding," he said, "and the next thing you know you have the killing fields of Pol Pot."
Killing fields of Pol Pot? It was a symbolic amendment to end a war that's killed 1,981 Americans to date. West turned it into an argument about how, no matter what else is getting its funding cut, the military deserves a blank check. And you better believe he put it on YouTube. He even included a catchy title -- "A powerful floor speech!"
The point is, West's condemnation of Hayes is just another example of West's steadfast and loyal defense of anything even sort of related to the military at the expense of everything else, including intelligent discourse. Hayes tried to bring a bit of thought to the situation; West responded with a pointless attack tailor-made for the internet crowds.
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