By Jeff McCausland, retired U.S. Army colonel and former member of the National Security Council
Who exactly is President Donald Trump referring to, when he says America’s military dead and injured are “losers”?
My parents married in the spring of 1942. Shortly after the wedding, my father departed as a crew member aboard a Liberty Ship heading for Europe. A few months later, my mom received a telegram that his ship had been sunk, and he was missing in action. At roughly the same time, she received a second telegram — her brother’s plane had crashed while returning from a bombing raid in the Pacific. He was badly wounded. In 1950, her youngest brother, a Marine, was wounded multiple times in the Korean War during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. My older brother served in Vietnam, and my mom’s oldest grandchild later served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, he succumbed to post-traumatic stress disorder. He died for his country.
Service runs in my family — I commanded troops in combat during the first Gulf War. And our story is not unique. My family and millions of other veterans around this country are not “suckers” or “losers.” We know, personally, what it really means to sacrifice for your country. Which makes Trump’s criticism of military service so painful.
We know, personally, what it really means to sacrifice for your country. Which makes Trump’s criticism of military service so painful.
Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent article in The Atlantic alleges the president does not agree. Goldberg accuses Trump of rejecting a visit to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in France because he feared the rain would mess up his hair. “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” Trump reportedly asked. In a separate discussion, the president reportedly referred to Marines killed in World War I during the consequential Battle of Belleau Wood as “suckers.” Trump slammed the accusations as false, but this story and others have now been largely confirmed by several media outlets including Fox News.
At this critical moment, what the nation needs most is clarity. We need truth. We are tired of being shocked and tired of yet another cycle of presidential rage and denials.
We want to believe our commander in chief wouldn’t say such incredibly offensive things. But we also know, deep down, that it’s likely he did. Because he has before.
Upon reading the Atlantic article, I was angry. Sadly, I was not surprised. These allegations are consistent with numerous other comments and actions made by Trump over the past three years that, taken together, demonstrate a clear pattern of disrespect toward the military.
Even before he was elected in 2016, Trump argued that the Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. was “not a war hero.” He later described McCain, as well as President George H.W. Bush, as “losers” for being shot down in combat. Trump even resisted lowering the flag over the White House when McCain died.
In a Pentagon meeting in the summer of 2017, Trump blasted senior military leadership in front of junior officers and civilians as “losers” and a “bunch of dopes and babies.” In the aftermath of this meeting, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly referred to the president as a “moron.”
The list goes on. Former Defense Secretary and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis observed that Trump used troops as political props for a photo op in Lafayette Park. Trump criticized Gold Star families and reportedly told the grieving wife of a soldier killed in combat that he “knew what he signed up for.” The president has also denigrated and directly interfered in court-martial actions against soldiers accused of war crimes.
These are not gaffes, nor are they the blunders of a man who simply lacks empathy. Rather, they reveal the president’s basic lack of understanding of the military — and even bigger than that, his lack of understanding of the concept of “service.” This is a man who, in a 1997 interview with Howard Stern, bragged about how avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in the 1960s and ’70s was his own “personal Vietnam.”
Trump is, at his core, a figure born of privilege who views people not as individuals, but as pawns. This transactional worldview explains the fact that he simply cannot fathom why anyone would volunteer to serve. It is incomprehensible to him. In Trump’s mind, nothing is worth doing without the possibility of a significant monetary reward or boost in status. As Goldberg noted, after then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford had delivered a White House briefing, Trump asked aides: “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”