September 30, 2012

"All must have prizes"

General David Petraeus, 2008
Commenter Auntie Analog writes:
But even military decorations have been increasingly handed out like so many CrackerJack prizes: look a the parsimony of fruit salad on the left breast of the top officers who led vast armies and massive fleets and won the largest and most complex of all wars, WWII - men such as General Eisenhower, Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Halsey, General Bradely - and you see maybe three, at most four, rows of ribbons; then look at the nine, ten, and eleven rows of ribbons on General Petraeus and Admiral McMullen, guys who've never led more than a handful of divisions and, by comparison with WWII's enormous fleets, small naval forces, and then only in what have chiefly been constabulary campaigns - these guys wear so many ribbons that, with no more room to stack them on the left breast, the rows of them have begun stacking up above their uniforms' right breast.

I don't have anything against Petraeus, but the contrast with this formal portrait of Raymond Spruance is striking.
Admiral Raymond Spruance of Midway, formal portrait, post-WWII
The self-effacing Admiral Spruance seems little remembered today outside of the U.S. Navy, but he is perhaps American history's greatest sea warrior. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, he demolished Japanese naval power once and for all. He had the advantage there and he exploited it with superb efficiency. Two years earlier at the Battle of Midway (Midway), however, he won the Navy's most important victory ever, despite an advantage only in codebreaking. He also commanded the naval forces at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

For this painting, Spruance wore one row of decorations.

162 comments:

bluegrass said...

If there's one thing modern America is good at its making you feel good about yourself. Only If you got the chutzpah, or the money, or the right melanin levels though.

Surprising how that turned out to be more effective control mechanism than say,simply shooting you, or camps.

Knock on wood though.

Anonymous said...


"But even military decorations have been increasingly handed out like so many CrackerJack prizes"


How much of that is due to the guy choosing to wear all those decorations?

I seem to recall some military man I knew when I was young that told me he only wore some of his decorations. Something like only two lines. Something like a prioritization scheme. Like if you had certain ones, you would surely wear those and not some others, but if you didn't have some of the special ones, you would wear what you had.

Perhaps I remember incorrectly.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the point that ribbons are given far more liberally than in the past. However, it should be noted that the army's practice of placing some ribbons over the right pocket has nothing to do with how many ribbons one wears, but rather the distinction of unit versus individual awards.

Anonymous said...

Here's a pretty good explanation of why guys like Petraeus wear so many medals:

http://www.johntreed.com/militarymedals.html

Anonymous said...

Here is Eisenhower in 1945.

Five Stars... and one row of ribbons.

http://usarmy.vo.llnwd.net/e2/-images/2009/12/20/59616/size0-army.mil-59616-2009-12-22-131257.jpg

Anonymous said...

When you look at photos of British, Canadian, American generals of WW2 vintage and see their much more modest rows of ribbons, keep in mind how many had also served as junior officers in the first war and had been involved in smaller actions during the '20s and 30s. They were far more stingy with the prizes back then.

Ed said...

The number of ribbons American soldiers where is absurd, but it probably says more about the bureaucratization of American life since World War II than anything deep about the American character.*

Basically because of bureaucratic inertia, ribbons get added for reasons with various degrees of validity, but none get taken away.

That is how the two interventions in the Middle East, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have produced four separate service ribbons** . There is actually one non-service medal that came out during WW2 because the Air Force*** had come out with something similar, so Marshall lobbied for the equivalent to be created for the army so as not to damage soldiers' morale.

Incidentally, there are generally two types of ribbons that go on the left side of the uniform. Most of these are service ribbons that are awarded automatically just for being in a particular place at a particular time****. There is a second category where you actually have to achieve something considered worthy of an award by your superiors, and it has to be approved by someone far enough up on your chain of command. You could get the uniforms looking more reasonable just by removing the service ribbons entirely, though there is a case for pruning the ones in the second category as well.


* though I'm finding it fascinating how different what was regarded as "typically American" was pre WW2 as opposed to post WW2)

** one each for Iraq and Afghanistan, and then two earlier, slightly different ones for "the Global War on Terror" that were never rescinded, you only get one per deployment to the area but of course its not unusual to deploy multiple times

***technically part of the Army but it behaved and everyone treated it as if it was already a separate branch

****though in one or two cases the "particular place at a particular time is the US armed forces after 1980!

Anonymous said...

Heh. I remember my expert marksman ribbon, earned with the connivance of a comrade with a ball point pen in the target trench...

Gilbert P.

Anonymous said...

There appears to be an inverse relationship between the peacock-like strut of guys like Petraeus and what they've actually done. He looks pretty gay in that photo.
Consider America's love affair with it's special forces, the green beret-Seal Team 6-Rambos, about whom one hears about constantly and in reverential terms. But who do they fight? Poor third-worlders, thats who. Guys in robes and sandals with little comparable training armed with only light weapons, AKs, RPGs, IEDs and thats it. It's the Taliban who've got the guts, facing drones, jets, helicopters, and the like. But where's their mass of ribbons and medals?

Jeffery said...

I lost interest in the military when we lost any real freedoms to defend. They are among the best people in the country, but I hope parents think twice before sending a son into dangerous combat. Whatever their sons are risking their lives for, it is NOT American freedom of association, speech, or increasingly, much of anything else.

Whiskey has a good entry today about why the Sailer Strategy won't work: it's the White women - they are traitors as a group. I've come to the sad conclusion that it is true. Deep inside, they respond to the violent, brutal males of hiphop and even Muslim beheaders. Everyone sees what works. It's dangerous, because in time, others copy that behavior.

Georgia Resident said...

And we made fun of Colonel Gaddafi for his gaudy self-decorations...

Anonymous said...

Similarly, Napoleon's uniform when he was emperor is notably subdued compared to that of his marshals.

http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/david/napoleon-study.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d5/Charles_Meynier_Michel_Ney_2.jpg/280px-Charles_Meynier_Michel_Ney_2.jpg

When you're at the top, you don't need to peacock to let people know it.

Anonymous said...

What was really digusting was the first female congressional medal of honor - feminists pressured the army to find one and the best they could do was find someone who screwed up an operation.

but the rows and rows of service ribbons are suiting for the third world banana republic we've become.

Mac said...

I believe General Washington said medals should be awarded only for wounds received in combat....

Anonymous said...

It's true. Your typical Navy supply clerk has two or three rows of ribbons and medals after a 4-5 year stint. I remember when the DC sniper was caught and they described him as a 'decorated military veteran' - it spiced up the story to imagine that this former war hero had gone off the rails - when a quick look by anyone who knows what they're looking at reveals that all the awards he received were basically for showing without wetting the bed.

John Derbyshire said...

In the Confederate Army there were no decorations at all. "You're all heroes," Jeff Davis told the lads (according to the Ken Burns documentary).

Anonymous said...

Petraeus looks so gay.

Hmmm, there is something different about today's Navy. I wonder what it is.

Ahhh, yes. Diversity is our strength.

Maguro said...

Spruance probaby had more ribbons than that, but didn't want to look like a tinhorn Latin American dictator in his formal portrait.

Anonymous said...

You just don't understand.

Back then, the Dep't of Defense was just not as efficient at finding out all the amazing things our brave mail, female, gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangendered soldiers, sailors and airthings did.

(Oops, forgot to mention people of color. Back to the coal mines.)

jewamongyou said...

Great post and a very valid point. I wonder if the same process took place in the late Roman Empire.

Anonymous said...

1. This is probably a process that has grown over time. A picture of John Kerry at his Senate testimony in 1970 shows 3.5 rows of decorations.

2. I think more campaign ribbons are being given out because, post Cold War, the US military intervenes more. In the 1960's, you'd be in Vietnam, or on garrison duty in West Germany or the Pacific, staring into the whites of Ivan's eyes.

3. Bureaucratically, giving decorations is cost-free. Taking them away A) makes enemies and B) indicates that you don't have enough to occupy your time, which makes you a target for budget cuts.

--Discordiax

David said...

Uh-oh, Steve. You are courting the anger of the neocons. You don't diss their heroes. These great men liberated the Middle East! But of course, there's still a lot of work to do...

Anonymous said...

"he is perhaps American history's greatest sea warrior. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, he demolished Japanese naval power once and for all."

The credit goes to American industry. We have this tendency to credit victories to individuals, but if Japanese had US industry while US had Japanese industry, American navy would have lost in the Philippine seas.

Me thinks any American admiral would have won that war. It's like any Soviet general would have beaten the Japanese in Manchuria.

Anonymous said...

Boys will be boys, but now even men are boys.

It's like Hatcoys and McFields.

Anonymous said...

If any Negro can become a fireman, any gay can married, any illegal can get amnesty, any moron can get home loans, etc, etc, why not military guys get 'prizes' for just saluting?

Obama got the Nobel for just being elected. Heck, he got to be president just for being a clean cut negro.
We award black students just for showing up to class. We make a fat black woman a billionaire just for smiling at white folks. And we make a black guy president just because he smiles and gently fist bumps you.

Anonymous said...

Good points from the article; the military does indeed suffer from the "everybody gets a trophy" complex. But I have some quibbles about Spruance. Spruance was indeed a great commander. But the Marianas Turkey Shoot did not show him at his best. If he had, indeed, pursued and demolished the Japanese surface fleet, then the Battle of Leyte Gulf (the largest naval engagement in the history of the world) would not have happened, at least not nearly on the same scale. To quote from Spruance's wikipedia page:
"Historian Samuel E. Morison wrote in 1949 that Spruance was subjected to much criticism for not pursuing the retreating Japanese, and allowing the retreating Japanese surface fleet to escape."

In addition, at Midway he was second in command to Admiral Fletcher, perhaps the most wrongly maligned admiral in history. Spruance only received operational command after Fletcher was forced to transfer his flag from Yorktown, late in the day. The reverence given him for Midway is as much a political rebuke to Fletcher as anything else. That being said, overall he performed admirably, especially for being a cruiser division commander commanding carrier task forces. You don't need brown shoes to command a carrier.

"...perhaps American history's greatest sea warrior?" Maybe if you don't count Jones, Decatur, Perry, Farragut, Nimitz or maybe even Halsey.

Beecher Asbury said...

First, the 3 ribbons on his right side are not individual awards. These are unit awards that all members of a unit which has been so decorated wear. Unit awards are always worn on the right side. He is not wearing them because he ran out of space. Even a lowly private in a unit with a meritorious award would still wear the ribbon on the right side despite having maybe 1 ribbon on the left side.

However, I agree he has way too many awards. Look at the list of his decorations at wikipedia.

At least 18 of those ribbons are from foreign nations and 3 are from UN missions. He also has 3 ribbons from the US State Department. I didn't even know they gave out ribbons!

It looks like he has about 21 US Army ribbons for receiving medals and participating in campagins. This represents less than half the ribbons on his left chest. So more than half of the awards on his left chest are non-US Army.

Anonymous said...

Oops - previous comment used a quote referring to Spruance at Midway (there an unfounded objection, in my opinion). However, the same objection was present after Philippine Sea.

Here's wikipedia again:
"Spruance has been criticized for not being aggressive enough in exploiting his success in the Philippine Sea. Buell quotes Spruance speaking with Morison: 'As a matter of tactics I think that going out after the Japanese and knocking their carriers out would have been much better and more satisfactory than waiting for them to attack us, but we were at the start of a very important and large amphibious operation and we could not afford to gamble and place it in jeopardy.'"

Mahan would certainly not have approved of Spruance's approach.

fish said...

Taking a page from the old communist handbook.

"No more rations comrade but take this ribbon as "Hero of Soviet Socialist Republic".

Dylan Alexander said...

This probably has to do with the proliferation of "participation" medals, not "doing" medals. For example, every Army Soldier now gets three medals for completing basic training.

For being in the Army:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army_Service_Ribbon

For being in the Army during a period of declared "national emergency":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Defense_Service_Medal

For being in the Army during the specific period declared as the "Global War on Terror":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_War_on_Terrorism_Service_Medal

Then you get a medal for deploying:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overseas_Service_Ribbon#Army

You get medal for the particular theater you deployed to:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Campaign_Medal
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan_Campaign_Medal

There are additional ones for participation in UN, NATO, or other international type stuff.

A private who graduates initial training, goes to a unit, deploys to , and comes home will have at least seven ribbons to wear for as little as 18 months of service.

pat said...

Wrong. I remember Spruance.

Glenn Ford played him in the movie. Maybe if he had been protrayed by a more charismatic actor he might loom larger in the national memory bank. Think Cagney as Halsey.

Some of this is just personal variation. Spruance was relatively self effacing. I suspect that MacArthur would love today's more ostentacios medal style. Dapper Doug had an aid carry his pocket items so as not to show a bulge in his pants line.

But from all that I've read. Patreaus isn't one of those peacock soldiers obsessively concerned with his own appearance.

But maybe it's all for the best. You can get a day laborer for the minimum waage. A corporate manager will cost you something in the low six figures. But what do you have to pay a young man to take a job that could costs him his legs, or his eyes. The only sure motivator to get people onto the battlefield, is some symbol of some ideal. We call these things medals.

I was in the army but never saw combat. When I took over a data processing operation to straighten it out, I found that some of my colleagues had earned Bronze Stars. My opposite number in finance - who had a Bronze Star himself - said dismissively, "They gave them out for being a good clerk".

So when I went back to straigtening things out (eg. firing deadwood) I came to this one guy. he was a flamboyant gay man who wore an orange wig. He was in my crosshairs when I learned that he had won a Silver Star in Viet-Nam.

I cut him some slack, The Silver Star still means something and I, as a stay-at-home warrior, wouldn't feel right about judging a hero.

Albertosaurus

Harry Baldwin said...

It's hard to compete with the Russians for medals. See Marshal Zhukov

normann said...

What is funny is that fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines can tell ribbons for real accomplishments apart from "bullshit ribbons", as a retired rear admiral friend of mine referred to them, at fifty paces. "Bullshit ribbons" are for marksmanship and the like. The more ribbons on an officer's uniform, the greater the likelihood that they are mostly bullshit ribbons.

Anonymous said...

The problem wasn't what Romney said about the 47%. The problem was he gave the number '47%'. Why put a number on it? And if one must put a number on it, why HALF THE NATION?

What a dummy.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of this: http://www.theonion.com/articles/clinton-declares-self-president-for-life,191/

Anonymous said...

Romney's problem is continuation of the same old, same old.

He has a way of TALKING BIG and then BACKPEDDLING.
Obama is savvier. Instead of jumping/pouncing into the fray right away, he hovers over the controversy/issue/event like a hawk(or vulture)and then swoops down after he's surveyed the whole field.
Romney sees an opportunity, jumps in right away like a hungry badger, but then discovers it's either a rotten carcass or a trap. And then he retreats like he never meant to do what he did. His bursts of power seem stupid and ill-timed, and his backtracking seems cowardly and wimpy. He loses on both counts.

Obama is a better political boxer. He keeps his distance, gauges the right moment, punches, and then pulls back and dodges.
Romney lunges in, gets caught with a counterpunch, staggers, and then acts like it was no deal that he got hit. But people do notice, and they see him as a stiff-tard idiot.

These are very uncertain times when people want some kind of certainty, and Romney comes across as a very uncertain character and candidate.
Obama plays on uncertainty too, but he hovers over it, which at least makes him seem superior to it.
Romney dives into the pool of uncertainty and keeps sinking, but he splashes around like he knows the certain way to keep afloat. But his strokes don't coordinate well. This legs push forward but his arms push backward.
Romney is at once too square and too crooked. He's like a character of MADMEN who doesn't know what to do in a new America.

Worst of all, he's also just another tool of the Zionist-gay globalist elite. A GOP that says nothing about Obama's stance on 'gay marriage' is utterly useless.

Drama said...

Problems in the military just like in politics start at the top in most instances.

Anonymous said...

The current guy looks like a joke.

Anonymous said...

This might be more a reflection of how the USA has come to push its weight around than an indicator of our admitted tendency to over-award and over-play relatively minor things. All that chest fruit is a congeries of campaign and service ribbons. Back around WW II we'd been too busy with other things to engage in all the kinds of police operations we so love today. Hence there were probably a lot fewer campaign and service ribbons to collect.

Anonymous said...

look, let them have the joy from the brightly colored trinkets they get for shooting poor brown people

Anonymous said...

no more ribbons. bring our troops home. the US: bringing democracy to those unable to be democratized --
& at home: bringing education to those unable to be educated. panjoomby

Puggg said...

The proliferation of military honors has two main causes:

1. Unpopular wars that don't have full media support

2. Affirmative action

diana said...

I didn't know that decorations in the US military were called fruit salad. Terrific.

Y'know, pretty soon that phrase will be literal, if you get my drift.

66chevelle said...

Rule of thumb for Ribbons:

Take whatever Gaddafi wore and divide by 10.

Nathan said...

The decorations above the right breast are actually unit awards, not spill-over from the left.

Auntie Analogue said...

Why, Mr. Sailer, thank you for featuring my comment (for whose missing "t" from the word "at" and misspelling of General Omar Bradley's name I apologize and blame shamelessly on my obsolete bifocals, or perhaps on my eager yet arthritic typing fingers) in a distinct post replete with supporting photographic evidence which you took pains to reproduce.

I do and don't have something against General Petraeus in that his military leadership and effectiveness has been constrained by inexcusably pointless Rules of Engagement imposed upon him by the No-See-Islam civilian elect despite the obvious harm these ROE's have inflicted upon our boys and girls in uniform, but also in that his, and other general & flag officers', fervor for ineffectual counterinsurgency methods and nation building farce seems to have blinded him to the nature not only of the enemy in Afghanistan but also to the true nature of the war which Islamic state and non-state forces have been wasging upon the U.S., the entire West, and assorted other nations all over the globe.

You're right about Admiral Spruance's superlative acumen, as Spruance's leadership was quite arguably superior to that of the far more publicized and well-known Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey who was himself no slouch in combat leadership. Thomas B. Buell's biography of Admiral Spruance, 'The Quiet Warrior,' I recommend to all who may wish to learn more about him and his historic accomplishments.

Mr. Anon said...

That's a lot of tin to be sporting for a general who has never won a war. They must now be handing out campaign ribbons for Hispanic History Month and Susan G. Komen Walks for the Cure.

James Kabala said...

Medals of Honor have gotten much more rare, though.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Medal of Honor is underawarded recently, however.

Bill said...

To be fair, having an enemy's code is a pretty big advantage. Still, Midway was a great fortune.

One of my grandpa's friends (don't know if he's still alive -- last I saw him was two years ago and they are going fast) flew a Corsair in the Marianas turkey shoot.

As for the decorations, people used to joke about Brezhnev for going around covered with them. Perhaps our leaders simply getting into the same mentality held by the Soviets in the later part of the USSR.

Anonymous said...

Petraeus sure throws like a girl, eh? (something I'm pretty sure Steve was aware of in choosing this picture ;) )

Anonymous said...

"If there's one thing modern America is good at its making you feel good about yourself."

It used to be America was good at making you feel you had to earn it.

Now, just "being" is enough.

Anonymous said...

just when americans are sick of warfare, wall street, and deregulated free markets, what does the gop give us? mr. finance and mr. libertarian who rattle their sabers at iran.

Nyk said...

Law of civilizational decline:

'The current level of decay is directly proportional to the number of decorations of that nation's military leaders'

Brezhnev still had more medals than Petraeus:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-WBKaG6CsJ5Q/T7kfLan0gwI/AAAAAAAAEb8/izhZG8SE04I/s1600/22352.jpg

It took 9 years from Brezhnev's death to the collapse of the USSR; will it take between 9 to 18 years after Petraeus' death for the US to collapse? (since we can roughly estimate that Brezhnev had at most 2x more decorations than Petraeus)

PA said...

"with no more room to stack them on the left breast, the rows of them have begun stacking up above their uniforms' right breast."

Minor correction: As far as I can tell, the ribbons on Petraeus' right breast are not an overflow of his left-breast fruit salad. They are unit medals; ie, not individual medals like the left ones, but ones that are worn by all members of that particular unit in recognition of that unit's historic distinction of some kind.

eah said...

Style vs substance, character vs vanity. Recall Obama soaking in all those Wright sermons, also allowing condolence letters to be signed by machine (not to mention letting US service personnel serve under circumstances where they are likely to be shot in the back at any moment). A military man ought to be embarrassed to wear a uniform like that. What a dick.

Thomas O. Meehan said...

Another example might be the massive encrustations of gleaming hardware on the chests of Soviet generals who from 1945 to 1979 never fired a shot. I've seen some pretty impressive displays on Swiss and Belgian and Swedish Generals as well. I can only guess what they're for.

Anonymous said...

soft control vs hard control bluegrass.

Thanks for this Steve, I've seen Spruance before, from Spruance class destroyers, never knew why they were named that though.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic:

How the Empire of Japan became a industrial and military power in short period of time (coming straight ou of feudalism) is something very little talked about.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

When I started as an enlisted Marine, just after Vietnam, the generals and real senior enlisted guys were all WWII, Korea, and Vietnam vets.

Our first sergeant at my first unit was a walking history book - Tarawa, Korea, etc. Old indian guy on the verge of retirement, was just going to go home and live in a hogan somewhere.

Three rows was about the max then on these guys. I remember being pretty impressed when somebody even had two complete rows. In boot camp, we used to worship Chesty Puller who, at that time, was supposedly the most decorated Marine (and possibly U.S. serviceman, I can't remember), ever.

I wonder if any of these guys - Petraeus, et al, have broken Chesty's record. It is hard to believe not.

Chesty is an awesome guy, the likes of which seem to have all but disappeared from modern public life. The breakout from being surrounding at Chosin reservoir is one of those epic military feats that becomes the stuff of legends.

Anyhow, medal inflation, probably got its earliest beginnings around WWII, picked up steam during Vietnam, and is off and running now, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

I work with a bunch of Navy people. Their policy is to wear only their top three awards for most uniforms because they are simpler to manage that way.

dearieme said...

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Simon in London said...

Petraeus isn't even a bad guy, by the modern military standard. He did actually wage a successful counter-insurgency campaign that enabled withdrawal-with-honour. That's a lot more than most of his equally bemedalled paper-pushing 'Diversity Is Our Strength' peers have accomplished.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Fry on the US Army:

Lovely army, very nice vehicles... Do you have any grown-ups?

Anonymous said...

"these guys wear so many ribbons that, with no more room to stack them on the left breast, the rows of them have begun stacking up above their uniforms' right breast."

Those are Unit Awards, dummy. They are supposed to be on the right side.

Anonymous said...

Here are the "awards and decorations" of Audi Murphy, and those of General Petraeus.

And here are the ribbons on the chest of Daniel Joseph Daly, one of the few men to win two Medals of Honor.

Steve Sailer said...

Okay, but Zhukov did win the biggest war ever.

kiminimunekyun said...

Didn't Napoleon basically invent the concept of awarding medals to make soldiers feel as if they had done something important and honorable and righteous, when in actuality they had done nothing of the sort-- and that soldier's loyalties were so cheaply bought with medals in lieu of actual compensation? Murder and outright theft symbolized by a little shiny bauble. I think I read that in history books.

DaveinHackensack said...

"Medals of Honor have gotten much more rare, though"

Yeah, but that's not because the military has become more selective in awarding them. They've become less selective if anything -- compare any recent award citation to this one for MSG Roy Benavidez.

Anonymous said...

All those ribbons... so fitting in the age of gays in milifairy.

AllanF said...

For this painting, Spruance wore one row of decorations.

He wore it on his sleeve. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Didn't Napoleon basically invent the concept of awarding medals to make soldiers feel as if they had done something important and honorable and righteous, when in actuality they had done nothing of the sort-- and that soldier's loyalties were so cheaply bought with medals in lieu of actual compensation? Murder and outright theft symbolized by a little shiny bauble.


No.


I think I read that in history books.


What are you reading, Howard Zinn? The nicest thing to say about you is that you're misinformed.

Anonymous said...

compare any recent award citation to this one for MSG Roy Benavidez.


The Benavidez citation is unusually lengthy. Most of them seem to be written under some sort of word count constraint. Perhaps it's because the Benavidez citation occurred outside the normal channels?

This is the posthumous Medal of Honor citation of Paul R Smith, KIA in Iraq. It's substantively ever bit as impressive as that of Benavidez.

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army."

Of course, I think you're the guy who argued in the past that getting killed makes any soldier a loser and not a hero.

kiminimunekyun said...

Some clarification since I was unclear: Napoleon awarded medals (sans ribbons), which are not necessarily worn as decorations but carried around like coins, so I suppose he is not to blame for the mass proliferation of ribbons. The point made in the article referenced below is that the Napoleonic medals represent a form of recognition of an individual's merit, as opposed to recognition of a unit's merit.

(See Chapter 5 on Medals) The Genesis Of Napoleonic Propaganda, 1796-1799 by Wayne Hanley - http://www.gutenberg-e.org/haw01/index.html

Steve Sailer said...

But the Marianas Turkey Shoot did not show [Spruance] at his best. If he had, indeed, pursued and demolished the Japanese surface fleet, then the Battle of Leyte Gulf (the largest naval engagement in the history of the world) would not have happened, at least not nearly on the same scale."

And Leyte Gulf was a close run thing only because Halsey, the anti-Spruance, ran off to chase the decoy Japanese carriers without flight crews.

Harry Baldwin said...

The "Spruance haircut" was an expression used by the navy during the island campaigns. It referred to the crewcut appearance of an island after it had been subject to intensive naval bombardment, with all of the coconut palms sheared off a foot from the ground.

Jason Sylvester said...

@jewamongyou - you said: " I wonder if the same process took place in the late Roman Empire."

I am attempting to tackle for the first time in my life all three volumes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, at a leisurely, secondary-reading material pace, ten pages a day or so. Last week I passed the mid-point of Vol. I (pages 521-522), where we find Gibbon writes:

"The manly pride of the Romans, content with substantial power, had left to the vanity of the East the forms and ceremonies of ostentatious greatness. But when they lost even the semblance of those virtues which were derived from their ancient freedom, the simplicity of Roman manners was insensibly corrupted by the stately affectation of the courts of Asia."

Gibbon goes on to describe a development where a profusion of new official ranks, titles and epithets - the latter used in the neutral sense of the word - were created, along with what we would call "medals" to call attention to those holding them: "The codicils or patents of their office were curiously emblazoned with such emblems as were best adapted to explain its nature and high dignity...Some of these official ensigns were really exhibited in their hall of audience; others preceded their pompous march whenever they appeared in public; and every circumstance of their demeanour, their dress, their ornaments, and their train, was calculated to inspire a deep reverence for the representatives of supreme majesty."


This proliferation of the Roman equivalent of "fruit salad" would have not set well with their ancestors, says Gibbon: "The purity of the Latin language was debased, by adopting, in the intercourse of pride and flattery, a profusion of epithets which Tully would scarcely have understood, and which Augustus would have rejected with indignation."

Damn, I wish I could write like that guy!

Anyway, I thought of that passage in the Decline & Fall when I read the post and saw your subsequent comment. At the point I'm at, the Empire is declining but is still far from a fall: Gibbon makes not-so-infrequent claims that the Roman culture itself seemed to be headed in an "Eastern" or "Oriental," i.e., soft and effeminate, direction, as its decline accelerated. And I'm getting the impression he thinks the emergence of Christianity has a good deal to do with that, though, as I noted, I've got a long ways to go.

Whatever the case, Gibbon disdains this increasing effeminacy in the Romans, he's made clear in the chronicle to date, and seems to think that this proliferation of Roman "fruit salad" is another clear sign of cultural and civic decay.

Anonymous said...

After the Grenada invasion the army awarded more medals then the number of troops who landed on the island!!? The U.S. military gives away ribbons, awards and medals like candy at Halloween. Just seems to be the thing these days. I was at my niece's graduation from high school. High school, mind you, not Harvard. Several schools held it all together in this large auditorium. It took forever. One kid after another received a "special" award. I estimate, without any exaggeration, 80-85% of the kids got a "special" award for being "special". It was ridiculous. We have totally undermined the meaning of the word special. Special is 2 or 3 out of a hundred, not 80-85 out of a hundred. One thing I noticed. Every single black faculty member gave their award to a black student. NO EXCEPTIONS. This was not the case at all with the white staffers.

DaveinHackensack said...

"Of course, I think you're the guy who argued in the past that getting killed makes any soldier a loser and not a hero."

I never said that. You may be thinking of George Patton, who didn't say that either, but did say this:

"The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."

Anonymous said...

The point made in the article referenced below is that the Napoleonic medals represent a form of recognition of an individual's merit, as opposed to recognition of a unit's merit.


Ok. Please read the wikipedia entry on "Medals" before digging yourself any deeper into this hole.

Anonymous said...

To those who say Petraeus looks gay in that photo: Ray Lewis would look gay in that damn beret.

Get rid of them, Gay Pentagon!

stari_momak said...

What? We fought in the Pacific during the UN-Nazi campaign?

Dutch Boy said...

Most of the medals awarded are of the ticket-punching rather the valor variety: Joe Blow was in Vietnam or Korea or Afghanistan, or Iraq, flew some air missions, had good conduct, went to Jump School, qualified with a rifle or pistol, etc.. You can buildup quite an impressive display of fruit salad with this kind of stuff. Troops like the strokes and it doesn't cost the military a pittance.

Anonymous said...

olympics should hand out more medals.

aluminum medal for 4th
iron for 5th
tin for 6th
zinc for 7th
nickel for 8th
lead for 9th
rubber for 10th
plastic for 11th
paper for 12th

Auntie Analogue said...

Mr. Sailer wrote: "But the Marianas Turkey Shoot did not show [Spruance] at his best. If he had, indeed, pursued and demolished the Japanese surface fleet, then the Battle of Leyte Gulf (the largest naval engagement in the history of the world) would not have happened....."

One must not overlook that the prime mission of Spruance's task force was to protect the vulnerable Marianas amphibious assault task force from Japanese attack. Pursuit of retreating Japanese attack forces was for Spruance only a secondary consideration. It was Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's handling, under Spruance's Fifth Fleet command, of Spruance's carrier task forces that inflicted the heavy Japanese aircraft losses in the Marianas Turkey Shoot. After Mitscher's carrier air groups had shot down some 340+ Japanese aircraft Spruance pulled them back on his short leash owing to Spruance's mindful devotion to his prime mission of protecting the Marianas invasion task forces.

The very aggressiveness that many accuse Spruance of not having shown in the Marianas Turkey Shoot is precisely what launched the ever-aggressive Admiral Halsey off, away from his prime mission of invasion task force protection, on his wild goose chase of the aircraft-less Japanese carrier bait. At the Marianas Spruance kept his fleet concentrated for its invasion task force protection prime mission; at Leyte Gulf Halsey raced off to pursue Japanese carriers (which he could not and did know to have been almost completely bereft of aircraft), thus opening the Philippines invasion task forces to Japanese surface force attack.

In short, Spruance at the Marianas did correctly what Halsey at Leyte Gulf bungled. In both instances nothing could have been worse than the commanding admiral having suffered grave defeat of his amphibious invasion by having exposed his assault task force to enemy attack. Even if the result, in both instances, would have been not failure of the invasions but of Japanese attack slaughtering exposed amphibious task forces, the (ir)responsible admiral would have deserved whatever judgment he'd have brought upon himself. Halsey was lucky that the suicidal bravery of U.S. destroyer skippers turned away the Japanese battleship pounding of the small escort aircraft carriers of Taffy 3.

Halsey also suffered from the age-old bane of military operations: divided command, resulting from the convergence at the Philippines of General MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Theater boundary with Admiral Nimitz's Central Pacific Theater boundary. This meant that Halsey was not informed that the southern U.S. carrier task force under Vice Admiral John McCain, who did not report to Halsey or to Admiral Nimitz as Halsey did but to General MacArthur's Southwest Pacific command, had departed Philippine waters for replenishment at Ulithi atoll. Had Halsey known that McCain's big fleet carriers had left MacArthur's amphibious assault task forces open to Japanese attack it's doubtful that Halsey would have raced northward in pursuit of the toothless Japanese carrier bait. At the Marianas, on the other hand, there was no divided command, as Spruance was singular master of all the forces there. So that when one judges Halsey's aggressiveness, the division of command and the resultant failure to have passed the word to him of McCain's carriers' departure should be borne in mind.

Dennis Dale said...

How much of that is due to the guy choosing to wear all those decorations?

There's no regulation requiring a serviceman to wear all the ribbons they've been awarded. Sensible career officers can choose a modest row or two of their more significant awards.

The funny thing about Petraeuas is he's seen no or little action, and actually sustained a serious injury in a training accident (now: if they gave him an award for that it's worse than you guys think), which is a major f--- up when you think about it, though his neocon sponsors will play it up, like John McCain's multi-million dollar trail of twisted-up wreckage, as heroic.

Anonymous said...

Decorations on the right are unit citations not individual.

Jason Sylvester said...

Thinking a little bit more about this post and taking in the comments - Mr. Sailer always has an interesting range of commenters that tend to add more than they subtract from discussions - I was trying to think back through my own family's history with military service, particularly when it comes to medals/ribbons.

My peacetime service in the USAF in the late eighties yielded no medals, and I can't even remember what ribbons I picked up other than the basic training ribbon EVERYONE who makes it through Lackland AFB gets. I was stationed in Germany for most of my stint, so I imagine I picked up at least an USAFE or NATO ribbon that I'm probably not even aware of, but I simply don't know.

I've seen a lot of pictures of my Dad in the early sixties in uniform: he, too, was peacetime USAF. I don't think he earned any medals, but I think he did have more ribbons than me simply because (a) he served longer and (b) he had an AFSC more critical than mine (I was a Scope Dope; he actually maintained and fixed the things that put the data on Air Force "scopes" in the first place).

My Grandfather Sylvester was the only member of my family who ever saw actual combat: he was an enlisted crew chief in the 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 8th squadron from 1942-45. He was awarded at least one significant medal - I think it was a Bronze star - along with numerous other campaign medals/ribbons, but he never discussed them and of all the pictures we have of him in uniform - and we have a bunch - he's never wearing any of them. I don't think my Dad even knew my grandfather was a Bronze Star recipient until after his death, when he inherited all of his WWII-related memorabilia.

The most prominent thing in all of his overseas pictures was his 5th Air Force patch on his flight jacket, of which he was (rightly) proud, and that same symbol is carved into his gravestone in Carthage, Missouri - the only indication that the person lying there once served in U.S. military in some capacity.

But, then, all the Sylvester men were enlisted men: officers, particularly career officers, tend to cherish medals more as an institutional symbol of status in what is - political correctness notwithstanding even in our Diversity-crazed 2012 military - a rigidly hierarchical institution.

Or at least I would think...I would be interested in hearing from some iSteve readers who made a career of the military, either as officers or NCO's, and their take on this medal thing - and the importance and/or increasing frivolousness thereof.

David Davenport said...

Okay, but Zhukov did win the biggest war ever.

No, the Reds did not win their Great Patriotic War by themselves. The Nazis would have defeated the USSR if the USA, Britain, and British Commonwealth forces had not also been fighting.

How sophisticated of you to use this Petraus weenie as a pretext to belittle the WWII US military.
That's the attitude of a cultural Democrat....

U. S. Grant -- Sam Grant, as he liked to be known -- managed to win a pretty big war with a pretty plain wardrobe:

Grant

Something else that needs to go are those berets. Gay looking, not much protection from sun, rain, bugs dropping down the back of one's neck, nothing. A mistaken Kennedy era attempt to make the US Army or parts thereof more European-looking. Europeans are so sophisticated, don't you know.

Veracitor said...

Lt. Col. Anthony Herbert, the most-decorated US enlisted man of the Korean Conflict (before he became an officer), remarked on the proliferation of bogus medals in Vietnam. I don't think it was jealousy, either-- he wrote of the mendacity in citations, the way rear-echelon types awarded themselves medals while ignoring the fighting infantrymen, and so-forth. He concluded that any medal for gallantry awarded without a simultaneous Purple Heart was probably unjustified.

I've read similar sentiments fromother people-- all of whom seemed to think that the corruption of the awards process really became a problem in Vietnam and has persisted ever since like high school grade inflation.

David Davenport said...

Which would you rather wear: a beret or a 1917 US Army enlisted man's Smokey the Bear hat:

The soldier is wearing his uniform and Army service hat. His collar is affixed with the Signal Corps insignia.

David Davenport said...

Which would you rather wear: a beret or a 1917 US Army enlisted man's Smokey the Bear lid?

The soldier is wearing his uniform and Army service hat. His collar is affixed with the Signal Corps insignia.

Veracitor said...

Honestly, I would rather have the old campaign hat than a beret. Way more comfortable on the march and better-looking too. If I need an easy-to-stow cover for when I take off my helmet the old flat cap would be okay (folds down nicely) or a "ball cap." The beret has no brim to shield the eyes, ears, or neck; no height to keep the sun's heat off the crown of the head; doesn't fold well; and looks faggy on everyone outside the French Foreign Legion.

anony-mouse said...

I suspect one reason that WW II Generals (and CSA Generals) had so few decorations is that it would have bothered people on the home front who were being told to ration every little scrap.

Anonymous said...

Something an Army veteran told me: What's the difference between the US Army and the Boy Scouts?
Answer: The Boy Scouts have adult supervision.

Mr. Anon said...

"David Davenport said...

Which would you rather wear: a beret or a 1917 US Army enlisted man's Smokey the Bear lid?"

The old lemon-squeezer is definitely better than a beret. Only paras and old french farmers can pull off a beret. Anyone else wearing one just looks like a beatnik.

God alone knows what queer-looking duds our "troops" will start wearing as the pentagon gets gayer and gayer. Maybe they'll bring back the ridiculously large ostrich-plumed hats of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Nothing says "military competence" and "fighting zeal" quite like ostrich plumes.

Anonymous said...

OT

Michael Lewis does nine pages on a visit with Barry in Vanity Fair.

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/10/michael-lewis-profile-barack-obama

David Davenport said...

Steve, thank you and I respect you for printing comments unflattering to isteve. I do think that congraulating Zhukov for winning WWII is a bit unnecessary in the present context.


The book, God, HONOR, FATHERLAND: A Photo History of Panzergrenadier Division "Grossdeutschland" on the Eastern Front 1942-1944 says that both German [regular] army and Waffen SS divisions handed out decorations quite freely and promiscuously as war on the Eastern front turned against Deuschtland. The Soviet gibe was, "Every other Fritz has an Iron Cross," not meaning that every other German opponent was a hero.

This book also says that the Germans customarily wore their decorations in combat.

God, Honor, Fatherland

Five Daarstens said...

It's not just the military, but civilian life as well. Witness Obama giving out the Medal of Freedom to people like Toni Morrison and Pat Summit.

It's also not just the US that does this, the UK gives out titles to people who win Olympic medals.

Anonymous said...

To Jason Sylvester:

As per Gibbon and the decline and fall of Rome, I have always been struck with one part;

"..and physically, large tracts of land within the empire were occupied by alien peoples. This showed up a hundred years later as social and cultural disintegration."

Anonymous said...

amung the army types, Petreus is faulted for wearing the all-service combat action badge (decidedly more "prizes for everyone!") than a combat infantry badge (only given to infantry and accompanying medics who face hostile fire), which would be his perogative as an infantry-trained officer.
He chose the "everyone wins!" badge over the "vini, vedi, vici" badge as a "morale boost" to the REMFs and POGues

Auntie Analogue said...

The last official dope I read is that the Army is shit-canning the beret with the combat uniform in favor of the patrol cap: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/06/army-combat-uniform-patrol-cap-replaces-beret-061311w/


One possible reason for the proliferation of fruit salad on today's troops is that we have now relatively smaller (than in the Cold War era) all-professional armed services, which means that during their careers the smaller number of "lifers" are deployed more frequently to a greater number and variety of smaller campaigns (your empire at work, if you will). It may also be true that to attract and retain volunteer service personnel a greater number of campaign medals/ribbons are authorized. Between WWI and WWII we had small, nearly all-professional armed forces, but they were not deployed to peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, or combat campaigns with the same frequency at which today's armed forces are deployed all round the globe. Nevertheless, I still consider that the florid arrays of ribbons on our contemporary career military personnel seem rather ostentatious, if not at least vaguely obscene, especially since our military has not won - at least not won decisively - a war; and I still consider today's proliferation of campaign ribbons (and other assorted novel badges) symptomatic of our culture's 'All Must Have Prizes' mania.

Anonymous said...

To David Davenport,

I do not agree at all that the Nazis and their Axis allies would have defeated the USSR in a solo confrontation. No evidence to show that at all. Hitler never got anywhere near his A.A. line, which was itself only about halfway to the Urals, the point at which German intelligence itself said the USSR would only begin to breakup. Germany had the immense advantage of a surprise invasion, which it wouldn't have had in a solo war, since Stalin firmly believed Hitler was too smart to repeat the Kaiser's mistake of a two-front war. It should also be recalled that the USSR always maintained large forces of its own in Siberia and the far east to watch Japan. It can just as equally be argued that Germany never felt the full weight of Soviet strength as the reverse. Why would the Slavic people of the east have stopped fighting when Hitler fully intended their genocidal eradication? It would have taken the Russians longer to get to Berlin, but no way would they have lost.

Anonymous said...

"Witness Obama giving out the Medal of Freedom to people like Toni Morrison and Pat Summit."

Witness Obama being awarded the Nobel prize.

Anonymous said...

Point taken, but I have to wonder if the proliferation of ribbons on Petreus' chest vis a vis Spruance doesn't have more to do with the proliferation of US little wars post WWII. Maybe the fair comparison is a career English "modern major general" circa 1913.

Anonymous said...

What was really digusting was the first female congressional medal of honor - feminists pressured the army to find one and the best they could do was find someone who screwed up an operation.

The only woman to have won the Medal of Honor is Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon. She won it at a time when it was a much less prestigious award and was doled out pretty liberally.

The highest award for bravery any woman has won in the U.S. armed forces since then is the Silver Star.

David said...

H.L. Mencken (may Yahweh rest his soul) noticed the growth of military ribbonalia in World War Uno, and ridiculed same in his article "Star-Spangled Men," published in "New Republic" in 1920.

A choice quote from it may be found in this (lazy) review of the recent (2010) edition of Prejudices.

Baloo said...

Florence King once suggested that the US Army switch to
Civil War era kepis.
Sounds like a great idea to me. But let SF keep their green beret.

David Davenport said...

Here's a photo of Chesty Puller.

I'm afraid that the fruit salad overgrowth is starting to show on him:

veteran of Korea, WWII, Nicaragua, and Haiti

Compare to this collection of George Patton photos, particularly #12 of Patton and Eisenhower:

Patton pix

Anonymous said...

OT/ New York Elite Schools accused of admission bias:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/28/nyregion/specialized-high-school-admissions-test-is-racially-discriminatory-complaint-says.html?src=rechp

DaveinHackensack said...

A couple of notes about the US Army's beret:

20 years ago, the only Army units that wore berets were the Special Forces (green), Rangers (black), and Airborne (red) ones. The current black beret replaces two different caps: the old billed cap that went with the Gulf War-era battle dress uniforms, and the flat cap that soldiers derisively called a "cunt cap", and which was worn with the "Class A" uniform (the military equivalent of a business suit).

When I was in infantry training in Fort Benning, GA in '89, there was a rumor that the "cunt cap" would be replaced with a powder blue beret for infantrymen (powder blue was the color of some infantry insignia). Everyone thought it would be an improvement but doubted it would happen. Certainly, none of us thought that everyone would get a beret: we figured we were lower on the totem pole than elite infantry rangers, but we were still infantrymen, which was better than being a REMF (rear-echelon mother f*cker).

DaveinHackensack said...

David Davenport,

"The book, God, HONOR, FATHERLAND: A Photo History of Panzergrenadier Division "Grossdeutschland" on the Eastern Front 1942-1944 says that both German [regular] army and Waffen SS divisions handed out decorations quite freely and promiscuously as war on the Eastern front turned against Deuschtland. The Soviet gibe was, "Every other Fritz has an Iron Cross," not meaning that every other German opponent was a hero.

This book also says that the Germans customarily wore their decorations in combat."


The type of uniform Petraeus is wearing above is the US Army's Class A, the military equivalent of a business suit, as I mentioned in a previous comment. Soldiers wear fruit salad with it (there are actual medal versions of some of that fruit salad that are worn on the Army's equivalent of a tux, dress blues).

In World War II, the Germans wore a combat uniform that was closer to our Class A than our combat fatigues. They were a little formal for combat uniforms. Toward the end of the siege of the siege of Stalingrad, Hitler handed out promotions liberally to the surrounded Sixth Army. He promoted its commander, Paulus, intimating that he'd prefer if Paulus killed himself rather than surrender to the Soviets. Paulus eventually surrendered.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

I do not agree at all that the Nazis and their Axis allies would have defeated the USSR in a solo confrontation.

Hmm, interesting. I always thought the conventional wisdom was that the Axis would have fought any 2 of the 3 major allies (US, GB, & USSR) to at least a stalemate/negotiated settlement.

For instance, there was no way the UK or USA was going to fight the war of attrition, which was heavily in the German favor due to their superiority in small unit tactics, that the Russians did and is what broke the back of the Wehrmacht ultimately.

Likewise, no England, no staging for huge second front & Eighth Air Force, all their forces & clever developments.

And the U.S. of course, churning out tanks, k-rations, trucks, lucky strikes, and so forth, as well. Like the Russians, our troops were less capable than the Germans, but also like the Russians, we had lots more of them.

Remember, it took all three of these countries 4-5 years of total warfare/extremely bitter/committed fighting to defeat the Axis (and left two, the UK and USSR with terrific damage physically, economically).

You could also argue that the Soviet Union never felt the full weight of the Wehrmacht, as a considerable amount of their forces were likewise deployed elsewhere.

Again, I don't dispute you, alternate history is just a conjectural game.

There is some evidence that Stalin was sort of convinced the gig was up when the Germans attacked.

My guess is that it would have ended up in some negotiated peace, w/the Russians giving up territory, maybe biding their time for next war.

In any event, the Eastern Front (as Steve notes, the biggest war in history), is endlessly fascinating just on the scale of it alone.

Anthony Beevor's "Stalingrad" is a terrific read. Truly a chronicle of a last ditch/no holds barred struggle. The Soviets executed something like 15,000 of their own soldiers during this campaign.

On the German side, after being surrounded, about 20-25% of the troops were local boys, Russians, Ukrainians, who had joined the Germans either freely or under duress. But in any event, they all knew they were dead men were they to fall into Russian hands.

Titanic, epic struggle, one looks at modern Europeans/Westerners and, for better or worse, it is hard to believe that these were their grandparents. They seem like a different species, although intellectually I understand that pampered people tough up pretty quick when there is no choice in the matter.

FWIW, in college I had a CS instructor, Herr Doktor Rolf Bargmann, apparently he was in (German) armor in WWII, was among the advance parties that actually sighted the outskirts of Moscow, then spent the next 3 years or so fighting his way home....

Anonymous said...

Steve, c'mon get the name of a fellow Notre Dame High grad right. It's Admiral Mullen, not McMullen.

-Another NDHS grad who happens to live in Valley Village.

Thomas O. Meehan said...

Roman Soldiers did indeed wear medals, and not just in the last years of decline. So far as I know they were for valor but may have also denoted service in particular campaigns. These decorations were meant to be worn attached to the soldier's breastplate.

The US Medal of Honor was so liberally awarded during the Civil War and during the Indian Wars that a commission was established around the time of WWI to rescind many of them. On the other hand I'm writing a biography of an individual who was awarded the MOH in 1919 for heroism in 1868.

Auntie Analogue said...

I make the error of thinking and writing "Admiral "McMullen," perhaps because he's often announced as "Admiral Mike Mullen" which, if you say it fast, approaches the sound of "Admiral McMullen."

Steve Sailer said...

AllanF said...
For this painting, Spruance wore one row of decorations.

"He wore it on his sleeve. ;-)"

Okay, so is the issue that Spruance's dignified austerity is offputting to lesser sailors? He's a Fleet Admiral and they're not, and it doesn't matter how many decorations they wear or not, he outranks them. (Congress voted specifically to keep Spruance at full Fleet Admiral pay through his death, supporting him in a comfortable retirement in Pebble Beach.)

In contrast, Petraeus looks tacky, but he's not setting too austere of a standard for lesser soldiers. He's setting a standard of If You've Got It, Flaunt It, which encourages subordinates to take pride in their ribbons.

Anonymous said...

Reflects the change in the chief country of military comparison and ideas :
Up to WWII it was Britain and afterwards it became the Soviet Union

Lugash said...

I think the near-dead NorK on the right wins the Most Medals Medal.

http://wuxiandis.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/medals.jpg

hardscrabble farmer said...

Last week I received a surprise visit from an FDA guy at my farm to check on something (ostensibly) that we no longer do. He was wearing a khaki uniform and it featured....drum roll....
a row of medals.

I asked him if he was in the Navy and he replied that HHS was a "uniformed service".

I let the matter drop and he was soon on his way.

I am fairly sure that soon, in the not too distant future, every clerk at the Social Security Administration will be outfitted like a tin pot dictator complete with Stratego-like headgear and fruit salad aplenty affixed to their lapels.

sunbeam said...

Geez, next thing up on the agenda is arguing about the AK-47 with the roughly 30 calibre bullet, and the M-16 and the roughly 22 calibre one.

Retconning history and alternative history is all well and good.

But regardless of whether the US had jumped into the War at all, I think the Russians would have beaten Germany.

Stalingrad was the clear decisive battle of the whole war. Everything that came after was the inevitable.

The only wild card I can think of is the Japanese maybe coming in strong in Asia and tying up the Russians, without having to worry about the Pacific theatre.

Roosevelt was pretty dead set on getting us into Europe, for obvious reasons, but putting him to the side for a moment, it's not hard to imagine the US having a war with Japan without being involved with Europe.

So no matter what, I think Japan had an inevitable playdate with the US. I kind of don't think they would have not done Pearl Harbor, going instead with a Russia first war policy.

That is an alternative history I think that has some legs, though it is unrealistic. Japan and Germany avoiding any provocation that draws the US into the war, and concentrate on breaking Russia.

But: I'm not sure that both together could have done it. Germany did as well as it did in the early days of the War because of Stalin. He might have changed his ways a lot sooner, with such a serious threat on two fronts.

And I personally believe that somehow, someway the US was going to get involved in the War. If not Pearl Harbor, something would have been manufactured to draw us in.

Although it's all moot, because Hitler conveniently declared on the US four days after Pearl Harbor.

Peter A said...

"The Nazis would have defeated the USSR if the USA, Britain, and British Commonwealth forces had not also been fighting."

Who knows. If you straight up compare natural resources, manpower and equipment, the Germans shouldn't have had a chance against the USSR. The Germans were initially much better trained, more motivated and had better commanders, but a war of attrition tends to erode those differences over time (which is just what happened). One big "what if" is what might have happened if Japan had attacked the USSR in 1941 instead of the US and UK.

The biggest German advantage was the hatred significant elements of the Soviet population held towards the Communists. Unfortunately the Germans squandered a lot of goodwill almost immediately. Part of the problem that arises in these scenario discussions is that people forget what the Germans were actually trying to do. If their goal had been reasonable - say, break up the USSR, install friendly anti-Communist puppet governments in Ukraine, Belarus and the Caucuses, isolate the Russian Federation proper until the Bolsheviks are overthrown - they might have had a real chance. But Nazis were not reasonable - they were pursuing a ridiculous Karl May inspired dream of eradicating or enslaving most of the population in the Western USSR and handing over the land to German landlords and colonists. I don't think that strategy ever had a real chance of succeeding, with or without the Allies involvement.

Miserable Old Brit said...

(1) "Admiral Spruance seems little remembered today outside of the U.S. Navy" - is Herman Wouk not read any more?
(2) Nelson, generally considered a pretty good admiral, is usually pictured wearing only one decoration, but it's enormous. It's not for anything important, it's a foreign star he got for screwing the Queen of Naples (this may not be entirely accurate, but it was something like that). I guess he just thought it suited him.
(3) Field-marshal Montgomery wore a beret without looking gay. But I think it was part of his faux-populist style - before that officers didn't wear berets.
(3)Napoleon and Grant, in particular, are often depicted as much more plainly dressed than their subordinates. Message: I can wear what I damn well like, but you lot must follow the dress code.
(4) In major wars there isn't enough time or bronze to award medals on a peacetime scale. A late relative of mine served in WWII from 1939 to 1945 and was in action on 3 continents and got half-a- dozen medals. In contrast this year the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal was issued:"In the United Kingdom and its overseas territories 450,000 medals were awarded to all members of HM Armed Forces (regular and reserves), operational members of HM Prison Service, and emergency services personnel (including Police Community Support Officers) who have been in paid service, retained or in a voluntary capacity, and who had completed five full calendar years of service on 6 February 2012." A play from the 60's or 70's contains the following dialogue between the Queen and Prince Philip: Q:"what's that medal he's wearing?"
P:"It's the Coronation Medal".
Q:"Was he very brave in the coronation?"
(5) I believe medal inflation has occurred before. Am I right in thinking that towards the end of the Indian Wars several Medals of Honor were awarded for a battle where all the US Army casualties were caused by forming a complete circle and firing towards the centre?

DanJ said...

For some reason I'm reminded of British comedian Kenny Everett and General Cheeseburger:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJYZrVc1kCY&feature=BFa&list=PL5731B45646F49BB9

Anonymous said...

The awarding of the Combat Service Badge to all Army personel and not just Combat Arms types is more 'prizes for everyone' with a diversity flavor, since women are excluded from the Combat Arms.

One of the first awards was for a woman who was in a bunker when a base got mortared.

Also, if you want an impressive soldier, look up SSG Joe Hooper. A Vietnam Vet, he died of alcoholism and was not what you'd call a "Soldier of the Month" type at best. Unlike Audie Murphy, who has boards and movies and such about him. People falsely claim that Murphy is the most decorated soldier, but Hooper actually is.

Sometimes it is the war you fight as well as the actions you take.

By the way, the Bronze and Silver Stars have been majorily devalued as well, with every platoon leader and platoon sergeant getting the former for managing not to step on their dick too spectacularly. Meanwhile Valor devices and the higher level awards have become incredibly rare, since FOBbits can't just award them to themselves without some outside authority looking into their story.

This is where "oh geeze we're giving out too many medals" comes in, where PFC Joe Snuffy kills a truck load of muj with grenades and a SAW alone, and high command puts him in for an Army Commendation Medal because A) why the hell is a PFC in a situation to kill so many people when they're telling high command things are peaceful and the hadjis are well on their way to becoming Ohio Republicans/Democrats and B) Joe Snuffy isn't in a position to argue about what he gets.

Anonymous said...

Kind of interesting you felt you needed to state you had nothing against Petraeus in your article. Why would it be assumed you did?

"But even military decorations have been increasingly handed out like so many CrackerJack prizes"

Historically this was always true. According to the experts at Wikipedia Petreaus' medals are for successfully completing training programs. Modern businesses are awash in training programs which result in the civilian equivalent of a medal, the resume bullet point. As to 'grade inflation', many medals like Bronze stars are awarded to entire units, or to all individuals in a given area at a certain time.

So why does Petreaus wear so much of what the greatest generation (Andy Rooney) referred to as fruit salad?

TLM said...

We called the Army Service Ribbon the I Joined the Army medal as it was awarded upon completion of basic training. It's design eerily resembles the gay rainbow flag which is fitting for the military these days. The GCM or Good Conduct Medal was another useless one that required little more than not getting in trouble every 3 years.

The true crime are PX warrior officers whom attend specialty schools like airborne training, air assault (fags), and others where they get the badge but never actively serve in an airborne unit (5 jump chumps). They collect these like little boys used to collect Pokemon cards.

Auntie Analogue said...

Mr. Sailer: Spruance attained the four-star rank of Admiral. To the five-star rank of Fleet Admiral Congress raised just four men, Admirals William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, Chester W. Nimitz, and William F. Halsey, Jr. It was by Act of Congress that Congress granted uniquely to Admiral Raymond A. Spruance the salary of his four-star rank of Admiral for life.

Baloo said...

My medal story, from 40-odd years ago, is here:
http://ex-army.blogspot.com/2012/10/decoration-inflation.html

pat said...

I'm a little surprised that no one mentioned John Kerry. If Unfit for Command is to be believed Kerry had a personal campaign to acquire as many medals as possible so as to bolster his political aspirations. Later when the political wind direction shifted, he threw away those medals - or were they someone else's medals?

In any case Kerry certainly got a lot of mileage out of his military awards.

Albertosaurus

MQ said...

The US Medal of Honor was so liberally awarded during the Civil War

most of them probably deserved it. So many soldiers took insanely courageous/borderline suicidal actions during that war.

I think the Russians could have beaten the Axis singlehandedly, although it would have taken longer. They faced 75-80 percent of German land strength and by 1943 were significantly outproducing the Germans in materiel. By 1944 the war was a rout. Remember that they had moved a lot of their factories out to the Urals so the fall of Moscow would not have been the end of the war.

It's all hypothetical of course...

Anonymous said...

Prizes galore.

BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the military can go for advertising in defense cuts are made.
Soldiers with Coca Cola logo their boots.
Apache Helicopters with Big Mac posters.

Anonymous said...

Bombs with Pepsi advertising. That way, just before one hits Iran, Iranians will remember to drink their pepsi.

Anonymous said...

Looking past the war he was fighting in Petreus is a genius imo.

.
"Surprising how that turned out to be more effective control mechanism than say,simply shooting you, or camps."

Early days.

.
"How the Empire of Japan became a industrial and military power in short period of time (coming straight ou of feudalism) is something very little talked about."

Blueprint + brains.

It's very little talked about because it messes up the blank slate narrative.

.
"Didn't Napoleon basically invent the concept of awarding medals"

Romans had them for things like first blood and first over the wall at a seige etc.

.
"...I would be interested in hearing from some iSteve readers who made a career of the military, either as officers or NCO's, and their take on this medal thing"

Campaign medals are cool imo. For anyone who's been in a lot of small wars it's like a history. I guess when there aren't a lot of small wars armies start to make stupid ones up so if you go from that to having a lot of small wars it can end up getting silly.

Medals for bravery are very important and should never be devalued imo.

.
"..and physically, large tracts of land within the empire were occupied by alien peoples. This showed up a hundred years later as social and cultural disintegration."

We're pretty much living through an exact re-run of the collapse of the Roman empire imo.

Anonymous said...

The MoH in its early years had some checkered awards, but lately is probably under-rewarded.

There were many MoH awards for the action at Veracurz in 1914. A total of 63 MoH were awarded for what was basically a minor constublary action, compared to only 27 that were awarded at Iwo Jima. In one infamous incident the MoH was awarded to every man in a civil war unit that agreed to re-enlist. (Those were later revoked.)

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Sailer, et al. -

I haven't had the time to cull through all of the comments herein, but allow me to posit the following:
there is a distinction between medals and ribbons, and the vast majority of modern servicemen's decorations fall in the latter category.

Why is this an important distinction to grasp? Ribbons are almost universally indicative of campaigns. Ribbons are NOT an indication of a job well done, or some other professional distinction.

In my fifteen years of naval service, I currently have six rows plus one of decorations, totaling nineteen decorations. Of the nineteen, I was awarded one Defense Meritorious Service Medal, one Joint Service Commendation, one Navy Commendation, several awards of Joint Service Achievement (one medal with several stars for multiple awards), and one Navy Achievement Medal. Five of nineteen decorations in my case were awarded for distinction in service; all the remainder were awarded based upon campaigns in which I participated.

Given the inordinate number of police actions, peace-keeping missions, the GWOT and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan within the last twenty years, the modern serviceman does indeed warrant a rather large number of decorations.

I wouldn't characterize this phenomenon as 'ribbon inflation', however. A man's career can nowadays be neatly summed up when he wears all of his decorations. Furthermore, Navy regulations stipulate 'all, some or none' when it comes to wearing decorations. I usually wear only the top three awards for practicality's sake.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Sailer.

Anonymous said...

Given the inordinate number of police actions, peace-keeping missions, the GWOT and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan within the last twenty years, the modern serviceman does indeed warrant a rather large number of decorations.


There's a lot of redundancy even allowing for that. I see that General Petraeus has a "Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal" and a "Global War on Terrorism Service Medal".

He only has two area-specific decorations - the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal - so those are not what's inflating his ribbon count.

There are decorations more or less specifically created to be given to high-ranking officers, like the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.

Anonymous said...

"I'm a little surprised that no one mentioned John Kerry. If Unfit for Command is to be believed Kerry had a personal campaign to acquire as many medals as possible so as to bolster his political aspirations."

I've read Unfit for Command. It's garbage, and the sources are nearly all cranky lost cause "waah, the politicians didn't let us win!" vets who are still pissed at Kerry for publicly turning against the Vietnam War. The guys who actually served in Kerry's boat seemed to really like and admire him. As a politician he's a pompous, awkward blowhard, but as a swift boat commander Kerry appears to have been a genuine badass. Hating his politics is a shabby reason to piss on a man who showed a lot more physical courage than anyone on this blog.

Steve Sailer said...

In general, the Vietnam war did not generate warm feelings among the American participants about each other. Kerry was not hated by the men on his boat, which by Vietnam standards was really good.

Anonymous said...

""..and physically, large tracts of land within the empire were occupied by alien peoples. This showed up a hundred years later as social and cultural disintegration."

We're pretty much living through an exact re-run of the collapse of the Roman empire imo.
"

Good point, but the one thing that struck me when reading Gibbons was the dispute relatively early in the Roman empire's history between the small farmers and the large landowners.

The large land owners wanted to import large numbers of slaves to work their land which the small farmers were against because it would undercut the value of their own labor and change the culture.

The small farmers comprised the bulk of the early Roman armies.

This dispute was an early example of elites versus middle class and insourcing and "the fruit is rotting in the fields" argument.

The small Roman farmers lost the political battle with the large land owners.

We all know how that turned out... Rome was eventually over run by barbarians though it took a while for the collapse to occur.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Athelstane said...

"It's the Taliban who've got the guts, facing drones, jets, helicopters, and the like."

They also beat up and kill women and gays...and non Sunni Muslims.

That takes guts, doesn't it?

Sorry, I'm just not going to sing encomiums to the courage of the Taliban. Courage is a virtue, but it's degraded when in the service of terrible evil.

Anonymous said...

"I've read Unfit for Command. It's garbage, and the sources are nearly all cranky lost cause "waah, the politicians didn't let us win!" vets who are still pissed at Kerry for publicly turning against the Vietnam War."

That may be, but it was funny that Kerry who opposed the Vietnam War would run on his war record.

Matthew said...

Yet only ten Medals of Honor have been awarded for the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, just three of them to men who survived. No living serviceman was awarded the Medal of Honor by George W. Bush.

There is some speculation that politics is involved: keeping the Medal from recipients who might use their standing as a threat to the political powers, Democrat or Republican.

Military medals have taken the same path as our currency: heavy inflation devaluing the lower denominations, while the really large denominations are all but removed from circulation.

Anonymous said...

"...it was funny that Kerry who opposed the Vietnam War would run on his war record."

Why so?

Kerry may be a pompous, preening, arrogant prick (like most pols, just not as good at hiding it), but there was nothing odd about opposing a war while serving more-or-less honorably in it.

beowulf said...

"How sophisticated of you to use this Petraus weenie as a pretext to belittle the WWII US military.
That's the attitude of a cultural Democrat...."

Ah ha! Steve Sailer, deep cover Kossack troll.
On the other hand, I seem to recall hearing-- though it might have been MSNBC disinformation-- that the Commander in Chief of the WWII US military was a cultural Democrat (actually, two cultural Democrats).

Eric said...

We had better hope the Sukhomlinov Effect isn't real.

Anonymous said...

Generally there are awards for

* Service
* Conduct that is meritorious
* Achievement
* Valor

The service awards are the "I was alive in '45" type awards, were it's acknowledged that you were, for example in the armed forces during a shooting war. I suppose you could include the combat infantry badge in this category--you were an infantry guy in a unit participating in combat. So some service awards are more impressive than others.

The conduct awards are for doing a somewhat better than average job. Maybe you figure out a way to get supplies to the troops faster and better while sitting in your office at the Pentagon. Attaboy, here's a ribbon. There are some awards of this nature that are more or less given out automatically to high ranking officers for not screwing up too badly during time in command, like the Legion of Merit.

The Achievement awards are for doing something like becoming a submariner, passing airborne or air assault school, being a good shot, and so on.

The valor awards are for actually doing something brave under fire, staring with the Bronze Star (with V), Silver Star, Navy Cross/DSC/Air Force Cross and the MoH.

Anonymous said...

Spruance was not a Fleet Admiral. He retired as a full Admiral (O 10, four stars or one big stripe and three medium stripes). In the Navy, only King, Leahy, Nimitz and Halsey got five stars. There was a minor push to give Spruance the fifth but since he was so invisible publicity-wise, nobody really cared and it went nowhere. Whereas Leahy (FDR's Chief of Staff), King (CNO) and Nimitz (Cdr of the Pacific Fleet) all had to get to the fifth star once Congress authorized it, Halsey did not. He got it because the media promoted his "larger than life" personality rather relentlessly and he had a big public following that expected it.

Anonymous said...

"Why so? Kerry may be a pompous, preening, arrogant prick (like most pols, just not as good at hiding it), but there was nothing odd about opposing a war while serving more-or-less honorably in it."

Don't be a dumbass. You know what I mean. Kerry's main association with Vietnam War was to denounce it as an evil war. So, it's rather funny that he would make a big deal of his role in an evil war.

Anonymous said...

"I think the Russians could have beaten the Axis singlehandedly, although it would have taken longer. They faced 75-80 percent of German land strength and by 1943 were significantly outproducing the Germans in materiel. By 1944 the war was a rout. Remember that they had moved a lot of their factories out to the Urals so the fall of Moscow would not have been the end of the war." - The loss of Moscow would mean that most of their rail networks would be cut off, and without lend lease their tanks would not have things like radios or infantry/supplies that can keep up with them.

The real question is one of will rather than mathematical certainty though, had the soviets not stopped the germans at stalingrad, might the allies simply despaired of ever beating the axis?

Anonymous said...

"In general, the Vietnam war did not generate warm feelings among the American participants about each other. Kerry was not hated by the men on his boat, which by Vietnam standards was really good."

What do you mean with that Steve?

Anonymous said...

I've read Unfit for Command. It's garbage, and the sources are nearly all cranky lost cause "waah, the politicians didn't let us win!" vets who are still pissed at Kerry for publicly turning against the Vietnam War. The guys who actually served in Kerry's boat seemed to really like and admire him. As a politician he's a pompous, awkward blowhard, but as a swift boat commander Kerry appears to have been a genuine badass.


This site is overrun with lefty trolls. Kerry was as far from a "genuine bad-ass" as it s possible to get. He sought - and got - three Purple Hearts for what were quite literally scratches, after which he was transferred out of Vietnam per normal practice.

He did a lot more than "denounce the war" - he denounced the American soldiers fighting it as savages and barbarians and mass murderers.

ja1 said...

how many ribbons, not in his hair, has willie kristol or perle, or wolfiwitzi?

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1235123/Bogus-SAS-veteran-arrested-caught-parading-impossible-medal-haul.html

Indeed.

Anonymous said...

"but as a swift boat commander Kerry appears to have been a genuine badass."

I find that hard to believe.

.
"Kerry was not hated by the men on his boat, which by Vietnam standards was really good."

Were the swiftboats integrated? I've been told that was a significant factor.

.
"but the one thing that struck me when reading Gibbons was the dispute relatively early in the Roman empire's history between the small farmers and the large landowners."

Yes, almost a blueprint for what's happened in the US except slower.

Anonymous said...

Then there is the Japanese army which gave out no medals at all. It being taken as a given that its troops would fight to the death and not surrender. What was seen as 'heroism' in other armies, was just par for the course for them.

beowulf said...

"This site is overrun with lefty trolls. Kerry was as far from a "genuine bad-ass" as it s possible to get. He sought - and got - three Purple Hearts for what were quite literally scratches, after which he was transferred out of Vietnam per normal practice."

"The valor awards are for actually doing something brave under fire, staring with the Bronze Star (with V), Silver Star, Navy Cross/DSC/Air Force Cross and the MoH."

Besides the three Purple Hearts he was awarded, John Kerry earned the Bronze Star and Silver Star in Vietnam. I wouldn't call him a genuine bad-ass (Teddy Roosevelt he is not) but he seemed like a fine officer. Its what he did with his life after the Navy which is so irritating.

Anonymous said...

That sure is a lotta fruit salad.

Anonymous said...

That sure is a lotta fruit salad.

Anonymous said...

"Besides the three Purple Hearts he was awarded, John Kerry earned the Bronze Star and Silver Star in Vietnam. I wouldn't call him a genuine bad-ass (Teddy Roosevelt he is not) but he seemed like a fine officer. Its what he did with his life after the Navy which is so irritating."

I don't blame people for being pissed at the guy's opportunism post-Vietnam service. But reading the actual writeups and eyewitness accounts of his Silver Star and Bronze Star actions is pretty impressive. Beaching his boat to chase down a VC rocket launcherman on foot and shoot him. Braving enemy fire in the open to pull a Green Beret out of the water. Both of those those take a lot of physical bravery and coolness under fire. I respect that, just like I respect "Duke" Cunningham's stellar record as a fighter pilot, even if he was a corrupt, greedy pervert as a politician afterward. People who aren't complete hacks or mindless partisans are capable of recognizing admirable qualities in people they politically disagree with.

Anonymous said...

"People who aren't complete hacks or mindless partisans are capable of recognizing admirable qualities in people they politically disagree with."

Well said Sir. Thank you. Your entire post was excellent.

Also you could add that it was very easy for Ivy league types to avoid serving (very few served in Vietnam according to one study I read ... Oliver Stone is another famous exception to this general rule).

In retrospect, I wish I voted for Kerry (despite my disagreements with Dems and Libs in general).

I don't think we would wasted trillions in dollars and lives in Iraq if he had won.

Hard for me to see how he could have been worse than Dubya.