Representative Roger Williams of Texas has introduced legislation in congress for President Obama to award the Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, and this has shown me that we, as a nation, have lost our minds when it comes to saluting veterans. Williams, because he hasn’t served a single day in uniform, looks at the Medal of Honor as just another military award – albeit the highest one – and thus it should be awarded to Kyle, like it’s a piece of candy that should be handed out to whomever he deems fit. As a veteran, I see the Medal of Honor in a different light, and believe it should be preserved for those extraordinary acts of heroism it was designed to reflect.
Understand up front that I, in no way, am trying to devalue what Chris Kyle accomplished. He was a warrior, and a true American hero. But he was one of thousands of American heroes, none of whose actions rose to the level of the MOH. This isn’t about Chris Kyle. It’s about the Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor is awarded for conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. It is not a service award, and it’s most certainly not a popularity contest. It is a sacred honor, something every veteran – especially combat veterans – hold in high esteem. Awarding it because of a wave of popular hero worship sullies its very meaning, cheapening all who wear it, both living and deceased. It is probably the last true symbol in the United States that cannot be affected by politics, only by blood, fear, and heroism on the field of battle. In a world infatuated with American Idol, we shouldn’t desecrate this final token of pureness into a voting contest based on the current popularity of a particular veteran.
Given everything Chris Kyle sacrificed defending our nation – which is formidable, make no mistake – none of his acts rose to the level of the MOH. If it had, he would have been recommended for it by his chain of command, like he was for five Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars. There are legions of unsung veterans who contributed as much as Kyle. One, a personal friend of mine, and another sniper, started his war on terror providing overwatch on the first combat action in Afghanistan immediately following 9/11. From the mountains of the Shahi-Kot during Operation Anaconda (of Robert’s Ridge fame) to five tours in Iraq, he served time-and-time again. His name was Robert Horrigan, and he didn’t get a chance to write a book, because he was killed in action on an assault in Iraq, two weeks from rotating home and retiring from the military. He most certainly would say he shouldn’t receive the Medal of Honor. Looking at it starkly, without the lens of Clint Eastwood, if Chris Kyle had come home and not written a book, or had not been tragically murdered trying to help another veteran, none of this would even be discussed. We shouldn’t provide an award based on actions that have no bearing on the criteria required for receipt.
The sad, sickening aspect of this piece of legislation is that it immediately polarizes the issue around “Love of the Troops.” If you’re against awarding the MOH, you clearly are a scum-sucking, hippie, commie, military hater. Thus, everyone who has never served – which is about 99% of America – will jump on board with Facebook posts and tweets demanding that the MOH be awarded to Kyle. To do otherwise means spitting on those who served. This is incorrect. I might tell my daughter she can have ice cream if she cleans her room. When she doesn’t, I say no ice cream. This doesn’t mean I don’t love her. It means she didn’t do the actions necessary to be awarded ice cream. Ask any veteran – alone, and away from the politics – and you’ll hear the opposite of what the civilians think. Awarding the MOH in this manner is precisely spitting on a legacy they hold dear. In an effort to show appreciation, the average civilian cheering on facebook is doing the opposite. And Chris Kyle, if he could, would say the same thing. It’s not about American Sniper. It’s about the Medal of Honor.
Sooner or later, someone is going to ask a true, living Medal of Honor recipient whether he believes Kyle deserves the award, and this is completely unfair. It places that man – a man who truly went above and beyond the call of duty in a hellish place – on the horns of a dilemma. He’ll either look like a selfish jerk or agree to something that deep down he doesn’t believe, which is a complete disservice. He didn’t ask for that award. He didn’t want to be the face of heroism. He just is, because of a confluence of events, an innate courage that few on earth possess and an iron will that allowed him to survive in a combat action where he would have been called courageous for doing nothing but his job. But he did, beyond what was called for. Above and beyond. And THAT is the Medal of Honor.
Charitably, I’ll say that Representative Williams has sponsored the legislation with true good will in his heart, wanting to honor Chris Kyle without understanding what he’s asking. Without realizing the tarnish he is placing on a sacred trust. It’ll be interesting to see if the new veterans in congress stick to what they know is right, or toss the honor they held in the military into the trash, succumbing to the popular winds as a way to curry favor.
Uncharitably, I’ll say he’s doing it for political pandering, gathering cheers for himself while painting anyone who refuses to sign on as “hating the troops”, and using that as a political weapon to further his goals.
Which not only sullies the Medal of Honor, but Chris Kyle’s legacy as well.