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by Steve Young

Steve Young columns

Author Dalton Trumbo once wrote of a horribly-wounded veteran in his 1939 book "Johnnie Got His Gun." The story spoke of a WWI infantryman whose bomb-inflicted injury left him a deaf and blind quadruple-amputee who with his face blown off -- no eyes, no ears, no mouth -- had no seeming manner of communication.

He spent years of grueling despair, confined to a bed, where he struggled to develop a body-vibration communication with his nurse. He was finally able to convey the message expressing a reason to live. He wished to be taken from town to town, showing himself to the American public in effect, the true cost of war. That it is not enough to be willing to die for your country. That if you choose to enter a war, you must be willing to become a living, thinking, vegetable for your country.

When the military and governmental leaders were told of Johnny's wish, they turned it down. That truth would damage the war effort. And that was where the book finished.

How real and feared were the notions of that fiction? The White House felt it dangerous enough to ban it during World War II.

Welcome to 2007 and the Walter Reed scandal. A story years in the making. A story that up until last week has been banned by the government and the military. A story kept from American voters by our pro-troop, pro-surge broadcasting Lords of Loud.

If the story that was hidden in plain sight had been exposed and blared ad infinitum with half the energy they use to excoriate the ACLU, the Right's water carriers could have helped avert years of immeasurable misery for so many of our veterans

Certainly the information was out there. All they had to do is talk to the minority Democratic congressmen on the Veteran Affair committee who watched helplessly as House Republicans voted to increase veterans' medical fees and reject increased funds for veterans' health care which, in effect, cut their benefits.

How easy would it have been for, say Bill O'Reilly, to expose this national embarrassment? In 2005 I had Rep. Bob Filner (D-California) from the committee on my little baby radio show in L.A. and he made it quite clear what was happening.

"We were promised and, more importantly, organizations representing veterans were promised by the House Republican leadership that a $1.8 billion increase over the President's inadequate budget request would be included in the Veterans Appropriations bill to provide for the health care for veterans," Filner told me. "It was not!"

If I could get Filner, certainly the guy who's looking out for us could. I mean, at the time, very few pretty blondes had disappeared.

So why did the Right's echo chamber choose to ignore this disgrace? It's a tough one to answer, especially when they (Republican politicians, right wing talk radio, O'Reilly, etc) spend so much time characterizing the left as the anti-soldier cult.

The answer is found by paying any attention to talk radio or Fox News where they'll cover anything else, anything to evade the insidious truth: Anna Nicole, Bittany's hair (or lack of same), American Idol nudie pics, Al Gore's perfidious hypocrisy, Obama's connection to racist churches, or Hillary's obvious connections to Satan.

Do you see anything on that list that mentions the national shame that is Walter Reed Hospital? Not when there was the real righteous indignation of Melissa Etheridge calling her partner, "wife" that needed to be shat upon.

To his credit, new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, didn't bring charges against some army private but instead felled the Walter Reed commandant and a Secretary of the Army. Perhaps Gates should have been in charge during Abu Graib and Katrina. But you heard nary a peep of indignation from O'Reilly against the Republican Congress who for the last six years not only stood by and allowed this to happen but actually conspired in the abomination. The Nospinster would rather spend a few hundred segments skewering Cindy Sheehan or David Letterman.

Would there be any mention that it was House Republicans who had ousted Conservative Republican Chris Smith as the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee when he sought higher funding for veterans services than the Bush Administration desired? Not when El Rushbo was far too busy blaming anonymous Huffington Post commenters -- not bloggers -- but those who made their comments in the ope- to-anyone, including dittoheads, forums -- for wishing the Vice President dead.

Did Ann Coulter, standing in front to of annual Conservative Political Action Conference, call Republicans on their years of undermining the veteran? Not when she needed the time to call John Edwards a "faggot." Oh,you Will Rogers you. And they say the Right doesn't know good satire.

You would think that someone with the impeccable journalistic cred like National Review's Jonah Goldberg would step up and get to the bottom of this national ignominy. Yet how could he be expected to find the time to expose the breakdown in veterans' care when he was immersed in writing a column to expose Dana Priest -- the Washington Post writer who with Anne Hull, revealed the military's dirty, rat infested secret -- for having "an agenda." If only we all had Priest and Hull's agenda.

Would Fox News scroll Veterans Affairs Committee's Lane Evans' (D-Illinois) comment that "The Republican budget resolution will decrease critical services and inflict real pain upon service members, veterans and military families during a time of war," and that "Congress should be ashamed." Not when there's a Brit Hume who needs to question John Murtha's sanity in demanding our soldiers be armed and trained properly before being sent into the middle of someone else's civil war. What a kook.

Instead of the truth behind the enormous disservice to our servicemen and women we hear of left wing scapegoats and anti-Global Warning red herrings run amok. The administration's apologists will use anything that doesn't reveal our festering national wound. Perhaps our veterans will receive better treatment if we burn one more Dixie Chick CD. Or buy one more metallic ribbon for our car. Or Swift Boat one more war hero.

But the incongruity that appears to avoid even the pretense of logic concerns the missing-in-action veteran's groups (I am a Jewish War Veteran) who for years chose to stand behind our President while he was allowing our brothers and sister veterans to be victimized, this time by our own government and military. They're speaking up now but how could they not see the Walter Reed scandal coming? Did they not read of the years of Republican VA cut backs?

What makes it even more inexplicable is how O'Reilly's crack research team could have missed it.

I don't know how long it will take the Republican voter to realize he's been swift-boated by the very leaders and mouthpieces who swear themselves in support of the troops; our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mother, friends and comrades who have been pawns in an war that we have allowed.

"There are always mistakes in wars," seems to be the almost daily defensive cry from the Right in justifying the unprecedented monsoon of mistakes this administration has rained down on this country. Perhaps this unfolding scandal will finally stop Republicans from voting against the American soldier's best interests.

Trumbo's Johnny was hidden from public view, for if he were allowed to be seen, the stark and very real spectacle would divulge the real cost of war. President Bush's "Johnnies" are the returning coffins from Iraq that he doesn't allow us to see and the maltreated vets who were wasted, I mean, sacrificed, by his miserable misjudgement that he continues to exacerbate with deadly miscalculation.

Finally, the deliberate suppression of the hideous consequences of veterans' cutbacks by the Republicans and waved through by this President can no longer be hidden from public notice. There's no doubt that Tony Snow will dodge any responsibility on the part of the President and as he's already done, tell reporters to ask for an explanation from the officials "across the street" at the Department of Defense.

Expect to hear feigned indignation hit the airwaves this week. Anna Nicole's been buried and the Secretary of the Army has been transformed into collateral damage. The Right's demagogues cannot ignore it any longer, but don't be shocked to find that this has all been the fault of Nancy Pelosi's first sixty days or by some skip of the Bill Clinton space-time-blame- continuum, a result of the blue dress that was stained some time during the late nineties. Certainly the Washington Post, The New York Times, the ACLU and Frank Rich, will feel the wrath of an outraged O'Reilly for some incoherent connection to the scandal.

But I implore the Republican and Independent voter who truly cares for the well-being of those who continue to put their lives in jeopardy for this country, not to be duped again. These TV and radio opportunists don't care one drop more than a crocodile tear, what's in the best interest of the veteran. If they did, they wouldn't have been complicit in not holding the President and the Republican leadership accountable for the veteran shortfalls.

Hopefully this debacle will serve to remind politicos like independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, who rightly voiced his indignation over Walter Reed in this past Saturday's Democratic radio address, that playing lapdog for this President and the right-wing talk show hosts who have hoped to coddle him into a Republican conversion, is in great part what brought about Building 18.

Last November we dislodged some of the Washington more fungus-ridden deadwood. Next it's up to the American voter is to rid Washington of the scoundrels who sought war more than they sought honorable treatment for the heros they sent into battle. Part of that effort will call for the public to stop giving any credence to the hogwash that O'Reilly, Limbaugh and the rest of the Lords of Loud blackguards put lipstick on and call the truth. For the truth is, they are neither the journalists, nor infotainers, nor the patriots they purport to be. They are the mold and they are the rats that have infested the same institution that Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite built on a foundation forged from integrity and truth.

The shame is not that snake-oil salesmen are allowed to sell their remedies, but that the buyer believes they will cure his ills. In the case of Walter Reed and Building 18, we've been exposed to the top of an iceberg that should make us all sick. And no amount of condemning "San Francisco values" or pointing of bullying fingers at "secular-progressives" can camouflage the fact that Trumbo's Johnny has finally been allowed to tell us the truth: The way we treat the ones we should treat the best, is despicable.

And in that truth hides the bloody secret: Those who sent our kids into battle do not revere the soldier. They only revere his vote.

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Albion Monitor   March 1, 2007   (

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