02 July 2010

About that Medal of Honor

Recently, an American soldier--as yet unnamed--was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.  Only six Americans have been awarded the medal in the last decade, all of them posthumously.  

The dearth of Medal of Honor recipients has stirred quite a bit of controversy in past years.  Some attribute the lack of awards to partisan politics during an unpopular war.  Others cite the changing nature of modern counterinsurgency warfare; a shift from large, set-piece battles to sporadic engagements and reconstruction efforts.  


Yet, the US military has been performing these sorts of missions--peacekeeping, peace enforcement, counterinsurgency, and the like--throughout its entire history.  As such, our "small wars" show no lack of Medal of Honor recipients.
Some have even received the award under less-than-valorous circumstances.  One of the most famous awardees, General Douglas MacArthur, received the award in 1942, after allowing his air force to be wiped out, and botching the defense of the island of Luzon.  Retreating to the island fortress of Corregidor, MacArthur was ordered to flee to Australia, leaving General Jonathan Wainwright in charge of the beleaguered garrison.  Upon his arrival in Australia, Gen. George Marshall nominated MacArthur for the Medal of Honor.  (As an aside, Gen. MacArthur refused to nominate Gen. Wainwright for the Medal of Honor, despite his years of captivity.  Fortunately, despite MacArthur's request, Wainwright ultimately received the award).

Gen. MacArthur isn't the only questionable recipient of the Medal of Honor.  In years past, the award has been given away, in some cases, frivolously.  Charles Lindbergh received the medal for flying across the Atlantic Ocean.  Nearly thirty received the medal for serving as President Lincoln's honor guard.  In fact, an entire infantry regiment--over 800 soldiers--was awarded the medal during  the Civil War simply for re-enlisting.  (I take that back, over three hundred received the medal for re-enlisting, and an additional five hundred received the medal as a result of a bureaucratic error.  Seriously.  Read that link.)  

While I think there are certainly many living heroes who deserve the Medal of Honor, I don't think the culprit is a vast conspiracy to downplay the heroism of soldiers during an unpopular war.  I think that the information age forces a greater degree of scrutiny on those who receive the medal, ensuring that no one simply receives the medal for "a lifetime of service".  

5 comments:

Chris said...

Starbuck,

One thing about all pre-WW1 Medals is that there simply weren't that many medals to award back then, so people got the Medal of Honor for stuff that would not qualify for a CMoH today. The Medal of Honor was created in 1861. But until the WW1 reorg, basically the CMoH was handed out as the primary medal for anyone who deserved an award.

It isn't until we were actually in WW1 that a hierarchy of medals (Silver Star -originally called the Citation Star, DSC/Navy Cross, Purple Heart for wounded, etc.) are created with the CMoH firmly at the top. (The Bronze Star was created during WW2 because another level of the hierarchy was necessary.) So comparing numbers before and after 1917 leads to false conclusions. People who would today get a Bronze Star got Medals of Honor during the Indian Wars, because that was all we had.

Chris said...

Oh, one more thing- those peacetime awards.

Until 1942 the Navy had a peacetime Congressional Medal of Honor, for jumping out of a ship to save a fellow sailors life, and a wartime one, for actual combat bravery. After 1942 they abandoned the peacetime award, because it was diluting the brand, to use a modern term. So again, rules change on the awards over time.

Andy Kravetz said...

and many of those dubious medals were rescinded years later including the case you cited about the soldiers reupping.

Hey, anything that will give the country a bondifide hero to celebrate, I am all for. And if th award of a MOH to a living person is morale booster to troops, even better.

Michael C said...

I can actually say that I can identify by name who this Soldier is, I helped work on the MoH packet. If anyone has any questions or wants more information, I'll protect the public privacy but email me and I can fill in the details. I actually have two different connections to this action.

Be sure, the Soldier in question definitely deserves a MoH. He's a solidly good dude too, and you know I don't bullshit.

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