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Monday, January 2, 2012

Medal of Honor Controversy

I had heard a bit about the McClatchy article on Cpl. Meyer’s citation for the Medal of Honor, but didn't read it until just now, courtesy Tom Ricks' blog. What a headache... Not having access to the documents McClatchy claims to have looked at, it's hard to make heads or tails of Landay's argument that the citation narrative got crucial facts wrong (Landay himself was at the famous ambush). For me, the crucial part of the piece is Landay's concession that even if one accepts the premises of his article:

"What’s most striking is that all this probably was unnecessary. Meyer, the 296th Marine to earn the medal, by all accounts deserved his nomination."

The article struck me as something of a distraction from Meyer's valor. It's hardly earth-shattering to hear that Meyer's own account of the battle was garbled, or that service politics played some role in the award. The idea that human beings are flawed, or that bureaucracies are driven to some degree by self interest shouldn't be news to anyone, and it shouldn't be confused with the sort of personal heroism the Medal of Honor is supposed to recognize. The Marine Corps might very well have perhaps handled the issue of the published narrative better, but this isn't a question of academic history, where the facts and details are and should be king. The one most important thing for the citation is not the specifics of the narrative, but whether out of the chaos of conflicting data, one has the firm belief that Cpl. Meyer's actions in their totality deserved this sort of recognition. And even Landay seems to recognize that.

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