Thursday, February 10, 2005


"I think I need some serious counseling"—Hero propaganda

I think I need some serious counseling. This is the most serious lie I've ever told, but I've been caught in many lies. —24-year-old Sarah Kenney

CNN reports,

The touching story of how Spc. Jonathan Kenney took a bullet meant for an Iraqi child on January 29 was reported by a score of Colorado media after a news release was sent to them by the nonprofit group Homefront Heroes.

In reality, there is no record of a soldier with that name dying in Iraq. Sarah Kenney is married to a man named Michael Kenney, and he is neither currently in the military nor serving in Iraq.

Hero stories are great recruitment tools. Addled highschoolers, raised on videogames, can so easily fantasize themselves stepping into the role.

There are real heroes, of course—among the troops and among the Iraqis and among people opposed to the war. And I do not mean by "heroes" people who simply get themselves killed, but people who are willing to risk their lives and livelihood for something other than their own egos.

But the Bush administration has had a hard time with its high-profile heroes. First there was Jessica Lynch, who was the administration's heroine of the moment and who created a host of heroes in her wake. She really was heroic, not for actions in the war but for her willingness to rebut the hype put out about her by the government.

Then there was Cardinals football player Pat Tillman, killed in Afghanistan. Testimonials to his heroism poured in from politicians and sportswriters, larded with phrases such as "great American hero." It then turned out that the military had doctored the story, just as they had done with Jessica Lynch, and that Tillman had been killed by "friendly fire." Tillman's brother Rich said at the funeral—

"Pat isn't with God," he said. "He's fucking dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead."

Not the sort of ennobling sentiment we Americans like to hear. Tillman really was heroic, but dead for nothing nevertheless.

Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, for whatever the military tried to make of their stories, at least existed. Spc. Jonathan Kenney didn't. He was useful to the military all the same.

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