By Bob Geiger, AlterNet
Posted on June 27, 2006, Printed on June 27, 2006
In his quiet moments, Rep. John Murtha must sometimes catch himself thinking about how much easier his life would be if he had just kept his damn mouth shut and gone along to get along on the Iraq war. The Democrat, who has represented Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District for 32 years, began angering the Republican party in late 2005 when, having seen enough of the Bush administration's incompetence, he became the most vocal critic of the White House's failed and dishonest Iraq policies.
"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion," said Murtha, in November 2005, in calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. "The American public is way ahead of the members of Congress. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq. But it's time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf regime."
Despite Murtha's standing as a highly decorated combat veteran, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 37 years, it was off to the races for the right-wing smear machine. They immediately set upon Murtha, who just turned 74, for requesting moderation and a cautious course when risking the lives of our military men and women stationed in Iraq.
And who did most of the attacking? Conservative chickenhawks, who have never served a day in uniform in their lives, but who immediately began talking tough and accusing a man of Murtha's stature of running from a fight.
It started on Nov. 18, 2005, the day after Murtha's initial remarks, when Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, the most junior member of the House of Representatives at the time, implied loudly on the House floor that Murtha was a coward.
"Cowards cut and run, Marines never do," crowed Schmidt, as the House chamber erupted in shouting and came to a standstill. Schmidt was eventually forced to withdraw her statement as inappropriate but, knowing how the GOP leadership operates, it's safe to assume she was given major kudos behind closed doors for taking one for the team.
Dick Cheney, told in advance of Murtha's new stance on the war, had begun insulting former Marine Murtha almost immediately saying, "The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone."
Meanwhile, Murtha, who was fighting in Southeast Asia while Cheney was kicking back on one of his five military deferments, fired back at the vice president.
"I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that," said a disgusted Murtha. "I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."
But that didn't stop the likes of Cheney and Schmidt at the time, and it's proceeded to get worse ever since -- the same ugly specter of Republicans who claim to be so patriotic and to worship at the military altar smearing decorated veterans at every turn for the crime of being Democrats and voicing dissent with GOP policies.
They did it with former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, famously brought out the Swift Boat Liars to smear John Kerry's war record, and they immediately started doing the same with Murtha, who volunteered for Vietnam in 1966 and for his service was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat "V," two Purple Hearts, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.
In January 2006, a pseudo-news organization known as the Cybercast News Service (CNS) picked up with Murtha where the Swift Boat Liars left off with Kerry by questioning the circumstances in Vietnam that led to Murtha's two Purple Hearts.
This time it was David Thibault, editor in chief of CNS, who picked up the prevailing tactic of the GOP, which is to smear the patriotism and good name of any Democrat who dares question Bush and the war -- even if, like Murtha, you happen to be a 37-year military veteran and a former Parris Island drill instructor decorated for valor in combat.
CNS, which is part of the ultraconservative Media Research Center, trotted out the familiar, slimy routine of questioning the seriousness of Murtha's war injuries and the extent to which they were worthy of the Purple Heart awards. Thibault made his motivation clear, saying that Murtha had brought the attack on himself because "the congressman has really put himself in the forefront of the anti-war movement." There's the theme again: Shut up and go along with Bush or get slimed beyond recognition.
Which begs the obvious question: Why do the likes of Thibault and so many Republican operatives who so righteously question the courage and patriotism of guys like John Kerry, Max Cleland or John Murtha hate our veterans and the military so much?
Their deeds speak louder than their words, and one wonders how they would treat liberals who questioned the guts of men who put their lives on the line and bled for our country. The wailing and outrage would be deafening, and yet they believe it's perfectly acceptable to vilify certain veterans if they happen to be Democrats and it furthers the far-right political agenda.
And what of their disgracefully insulting treatment of the very military institutions they claim to support? Those of us who have served know that you don't just walk into the PX and buy yourself a Bronze Star or a Purple Heart -- they're awarded at great discretion by the leadership of the military. Yet even those who have reached the upper echelons of our Defense Department now have their wisdom and integrity called into question by people who will stoop so low as to question whether or not someone came close enough to dying in combat to receive a Purple Heart.
My guess is that it's just a matter of time before House Republicans don Purple Heart bandages to ridicule Murtha's service as their people did on the floor of the GOP national convention in 2004 in an effort to minimize John Kerry's service.
It's repulsive, insulting and demeaning to every veteran, whether or not they have ever been unfortunate enough to receive that decoration.
The latest salvo appears to be a new smear site, MurthaLied.com, which is about to be drawn out from under a rock and it certainly has all the looks of the same people who brought you pure fiction about Kerry in 2004. The website is run by a woman named Amanda Doss, who has a long alliance with -- guess who? -- the Swift Boat Liars and a whack job named Ted Sampley, who runs the hate site, The U.S. Veteran Dispatch.
That name may sound familiar to you. This is the same guy who once wrote of John McCain as "The Manchurian Candidate" and suggested that McCain had been brainwashed during his lengthy captivity while a POW in Vietnam. Oh, yeah, he also said McCain was a KGB Spy. It's also the same Sampley who headed Vietnam Veterans Against Kerry and was responsible in 1992 for faking a photo of Kerry allegedly shooting an American MIA in Vietnam.
It was Republican McCain who called Sampley "one of the most despicable people I have ever had the misfortune to encounter" and said "Sampley has a nose for publicity and knack for making money from invented controversies."
If you want to know what kind of people are going after a legitimate American hero like John Murtha, look no further than the likes of Sampley, Doss, Thibault and their Republican backers.
There's also right-wing prom queen Ann Coulter, who recently said that Murtha was "the reason soldiers invented fragging," suggesting that Murtha should be killed. She followed that up by saying that "if he did get fragged, he'd finally deserve one of those Purple Hearts."
Only time will tell how much more repulsive this gets, but the mainstream media needs to explain how these cretins keep managing to get ink and air time. At least in Coulter's case, it can be partially explained in her being a high-profile cretin who may be good for ratings. But the mystery endures of how little-known -- and discredited -- "sources" like Sampley and the laughable CNS continue to get attention and relevance.
So we'll watch and see what happens in the coming days and weeks to Rep. Murtha, a man who has dedicated his life to serving his country both in the military and in the halls of Congress. How much character assassination will the 74-year-old Murtha have to endure for simply being a veteran who has seen war, doesn't like war and believes that a solid national security posture has nothing to do with starting wars for no reason?
And how much stomach do the American people have to continue watching Republicans and their operatives so piously chanting "support the troops" while turning right around and treating veterans and our military with such outrageous disrespect?
"War's a nasty business," Murtha said on CBS's "60 Minutes" earlier this year. "It sears the soul. The shadow of friends killed, the shadow of killing people lives with you the rest of your life. So there's no experience like being in combat."
When I was in the military, no matter what personality conflicts arose during long sleepless hours at sea or on patrol, the main measure of your regard for a shipmate or fireteam partner was this: Who do you trust to hang tough when the crap hits the fan and true courage needs to kick in? Who do you want in that ditch, in those weeds or sitting in that foxhole with you?
It would be interesting to take a poll and see if, faced with those circumstances, most Americans would choose the likes of Ted Sampley, David Thibault, Jean Schmidt and Dick Cheney, or men like John Kerry, Max Cleland and John Murtha.
Yeah, that's a tough call.