For the last 12 years, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has publicly recounted the story of a harrowing 2003 helicopter flight in Iraq. Covering the war on the first day of the American invasion, Williams traveled with the U.S. Army's 159th Aviation Regiment. According to Williams, an Iraqi RPG struck his helicopter, forcing it to make a dangerous emergency landing. Williams has told his story of what it feels like to come under enemy assault and to fear possible death in multiple venues. Unfortunately, that story is factually incorrect.
It's true Williams was aboard an Army helicopter on that first day of the American invasion, just not the one that took RPG fire. After apologizing for "misremembering" the incident, Williams admitted that while he was part of a four-part helicopter unit, one of which took Iraqi fire, his wasn't the one that took a direct hit. His was behind the one hit. As the story evolves, other Army personnel have said that Williams was in an entirely separate helicopter unit traveling in the other direction. The pilot of Williams's helicopter has said it did take fire, but only from Iraqi AK-47s. With the details still being sorted out, one thing is clear: Brian Williams is undeserving of the public valor heaped upon him for his supposed war heroics.
The problem with labeling Brian Williams, or any other journalist or soldier who comes under attack during war a hero, is that it glamorizes war's senseless violence. War between feuding governments is insidious and deserving only of scorn. Invading forces attacked during a war as mad as George W. Bush's Iraqi excursion are no more deserving of the gallantry attributed to them than the loser of a drunken barroom brawl. Here in America, unfortunately, we live in a perverted reality tunnel within which this senseless violence must be celebrated at all costs, regardless of your views of the war itself. Bravery, courage, and honor still manage to apply to those who willingly involve themselves in even the dumbest and bloodiest of wars. Injured soldiers and war correspondents receive parades, medals, and endless public praise, no matter the circumstances that led to their injuries.
American war culture is a sickness. By making heroes of those who come under return fire during war, we ignore the incredible destruction they bring about in their mission. Ron Paul got into hot water in the wake of Chris Kyle's death when he tweeted about Kyle that "those who live by the sword die by the sword." It's a saying all the more applicable to active duty troops. For one should hardly expect anything less than serious injury or death when he or she ventures out to deliver the same fate to a foreign people.
By celebrating the violent acts of individuals who carry out war, even where the war itself is almost wholly lacking in public support, the American public reveal themselves as pawns of the warmongers. Backlash against warmongers becomes difficult where the warmonger can deflect all criticism as "hurting the troops." Let's face it: There's nothing inherently good about traveling abroad to kill people for your government. Remove this trump card from the politicians' pockets and they'll have a much tougher sell the next time they decide to engage in global terror.
Chad Nelson is a contributing author at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org). He's an attorney based out of Providence, Rhode Island.