The Medals They Carried

Nov 14 2012 @ 2:58pm

Petraeus-Ike

A reader writes:

You observed that so many journalists stand in the presence of men like Petraeus with "open jaws and worshipping eyes." That brings to mind the military's cultural shift in its medals, ribbons, and badges.

Consider these portraits of Generals Petraeus and Eisenhower. Petraeus is wearing over 30 ribbons and badges on his uniform. I'm sure he earned each of them. But of that 30, how many civilians will notice that only one item was for heroism (Bronze Star with "V")? Eisenhower earned only ten U.S. decorations (plus countless foreign ones), and – as was the custom of the day – typically wore only three or four at a time. 

So few of us have military experience. We see a solider decked out with all kinds of razz-mataz and we assume he's a modern Audie Murphy, a Rambo ten times over. But the truth is, most accoutrements merely denote successful completion of an assignment, or time spent overseas – not necessarily in combat. Servicemembers can even earn a ribbon for volunteerism in their personal lives. 

Too many in America stand in awe of the military partly because the awards and decorations system has become so inflated. We used to hesitate to adorn soldiers with ribbons, medals, and the like – it smacked of European symbols of nobility. The pendulum has swung too far toward over-recognition of service. We ought to chasten ourselves, put the brakes on this ridiculous, clown-like boastfulness where every troop looks like a Libyan field marshal. But with so many of us slack-jawed at the sight of a soldier, who among us has the political courage to scale back on the excess that creates this over-adulation of the soldier in the first place?

More Dish discussion of Petraeus' legacy here.