Commenting on the two Vietnam veterans who recently mailed their military decorations to President Bush in protest over the administration's foreign policy, Miles O'Brien asked: "[I]s it the patriotic thing to do?" He also said, "If I were a soldier in Iraq ... I would feel somewhat betrayed to hear that veterans were doing this. Is that, in some way, not showing support for the men and women who are risking their lives over there?
On the May 10 edition of CNN's American Morning, co-host Miles O'Brien repeatedly suggested, during an interview with two Vietnam veterans who recently returned their military decorations in protest over the Bush administration's actions in Iraq and elsewhere, that the men's actions were unpatriotic and undermined U.S. troops.
The two guests, Air Force veteran David Patterson and Navy veteran Joseph DuRocher, returned their medals accompanied by letters addressed to President Bush. In his letter, Patterson objected to the "hate, torture and death" provoked by the Bush administration's foreign policy. DuRocher, who sent Bush his lieutenant's shoulder bars and Navy wings, wrote in his letter:
Until your administration, I believed it was inconceivable that the United States would ever initiate an aggressive and preemptive war against a country that posed no threat to us. Until your administration, I thought it was impossible for our nation to take hundreds of persons into custody without provable charges of any kind, and to "disappear" them into holes like Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. Until your administration, in my wildest legal fantasy I could not imagine a U.S. Attorney General seeking to justify torture or a President first stating his intent to veto an anti-torture law, and then adding a "signing statement" that he intends to ignore such law as he sees fit. I do not want these things done in my name.
In introducing the segment, O'Brien immediately called into question the patriotism of Patterson's and DuRocher's actions. He asked, "[I]s it the patriotic thing to do?" O'Brien went on to question how both veterans' actions would affect U.S. troops currently stationed overseas, saying, "If I were a soldier in Iraq and I heard about this right now, I might feel betrayed." He further asked: "Is that, in some way, not showing support for the men and women who are risking their lives over there?"
O'Brien later inquired if they had considered whether their actions might upset U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, and added, "[Q]uite frankly, a lot of people would say what you did was an unpatriotic thing." DuRocher countered that "the most patriotic thing you can do is protest an illegal act of the government." He went on to clarify that he was not protesting "the people serving now with their boots on the ground" -- whom he described as "heroes" and "great young men and women" -- but rather "the people making the decisions and the policy that we believe is illegal and immoral."
From the May 10 edition of CNN's American Morning:
O'BRIEN: There is growing anger with the war in Iraq, and it is prompting some protests that seem to hearken back to another time, another war. Veterans who are returning their medals and ribbons to the White House as a protest. But is it the patriotic thing to do? David Patterson is an Air Force veteran and Joseph DuRocher, a Navy vet. Both served in the Vietnam War. Good to have you both with us, gentlemen. Joseph, I want to begin with you.
DUROCHER: Good morning.
O'BRIEN: You -- I know you have a portion of the letter that you sent back, when you sent back your medals and ribbons. Would you share it with us, please?
DUROCHER: I did. And to be more accurate, I sent my Navy wings, the gold wings I had earned, and my shoulder boards, which was the symbol of my rank. Yes, my letter ended with these words: "To remain silent is to let you think I approve and support your actions." This is addressed to the president of the United States. "I do not. So, I am saddened to give up my wings and bars, but I hate the torture and death you have caused more than I value their symbolism. Giving them up makes me cry for my beloved country." This was -- this was an act of personal symbolic protest.
O'BRIEN: And tell me what you hope to accomplish?
DUROCHER: I hope to get some attention. I hope that other people would know about this act, that other veterans, people who had actually served in the military services over the years -- my generation, younger generations -- would respond and connect with this idea. I didn't want to start a movement of any kind. I just wanted to be heard and have understand that this war, pre-emptive war, torture, holding people indefinitely without trial, all shocked my conscience. It's not the way this country should be. It's not the way that -- I teach law now -- and it's not the way I teach the traditional constitutional basis of this country.
O'BRIEN: All right, let's get -- let's get over to David for a minute.
O'BRIEN: I want to share just a brief portion of your letter, David. It's sort of similar. You say, "I'm saddened to give up my hard-earned medals, but the hate, torture and death you have instrumented in this world tarnish the symbolism they carry." Also a letter to the president. You have similar goals, David?
PATTERSON: Yes, Miles. For me, it's -- the whole thing is about betrayal. You know, when people join the military, they trust that our government, that the people in charge, will actually make sure that they don't commit them to a conflict unless it's absolutely necessary. And all along, in every juncture, the Bush administration has betrayed that trust.
O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you this, though. If I were a soldier in Iraq, and I heard about this right now, I might feel betrayed. Have you -- did you think about that?
PATTERSON: Actually, Miles, when I was in Thailand, in 1972, we had an intelligence briefing. They came in and told us that, in fact, we had known for a long time that we were losing the war, and they just asked us to keep it up so we could go to the peace table. And it didn't slow us down.
O'BRIEN No, no, no, I'm sorry. You misunderstand. I would feel somewhat betrayed to hear that veterans were doing this. Is that, in some way, not showing support for the men and women who are risking their lives over there?
PATTERSON: No, actually, Miles, it's not. The men and women risk their lives to support the Constitution of this country, not the constitution of some other place that was dreamt up, some crazy war that was dreamt up by some crazy people in Washington. They don't belong there, and they should be out.
O'BRIEN: You know, I suspect, Joseph, that, in the course of the Vietnam War, you heard a lot about protests back home while were you in the midst of things. Did you think about what that -- that must have -- that must have been upsetting at the time. Did you think about how that would be perceived now? And quite frankly, a lot of people would say what you did was an unpatriotic thing.
DUROCHER: Well, I think the most patriotic thing you can do is protest an illegal act of the government. I think people need to stand up, and I think protests of this kind are patriotic. And like other vets, we're not talking about the people serving now with their boots on the ground. Those are heroes. Those are great people, great young men and women. They were put there, and they were put in harm's way by the politicians. That's the people we're protesting, the people making the decisions and the policy that we believe is illegal and immoral.
O'BRIEN: Joseph --
DUROCHER: We support the kids on the ground, believe me.
O'BRIEN: All right, good. All right, good points. Joseph DuRocher, David Patterson, thank you very much for being with us this morning.
DUROCHER: Good to be with you. Thanks you.
PATTERSON: Thanks, Miles. Joe, I salute you.
DUROCHER: Thank you, sir. Good to meet you.