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Jewish World Review May 26, 2000 /21 Iyar, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Awarding medals by race is a disgrace

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IN BATTLE, the only colors that should matter are the colors of the flag under which a soldier serves. In tribute, the same should hold true. Our draft-dodging, pander-happy president disagrees. Next month, President Clinton will hand out military awards based on dubious claims of racial discrimination.

This preferential treatment based on race is an insult to all brave veterans.

Thanks to an aggressive campaign by prominent Japanese-Americans, 21 World War II veterans of Asian descent will receive "upgrades" of their Distinguished Service Crosses. All but 2 of the honorees are Japanese-American. With a wave of President Clinton's pen, their crosses - the nation's second highest military citation for "extraordinary heroism in action" -- will turn into Medals of Honor. The MOH is the highest award for life-risking acts "above and beyond the call of duty."

No one questions the heroism of the Asian-American veterans who will benefit. But were new facts unearthed that warranted these belated upgrades? No. Instead, the racial grievance lobby made a reckless blanket assertion that the U.S. military was guilty of discrimination by association.

According to Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), who led the drive to award the promotions: "Asian Pacific Americans were not accorded full consideration for the Medal of Honor at the time of their service. A prevailing climate of racial prejudice against Asian Pacific Americans during World War II precluded this basic fairness, the most egregious example being the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans."

The government has apologized and provided cash compensation to victims who were forced into camps. There is no denying that what happened to Japanese-American internees was abhorrent and wrong. Nevertheless, Sen. Akaka's claim that individual Asian-American WWII vets were cheated out of Medals of Honor because of "bias, discrimination, and hysteria" flies in the face of history. Sen. Akaka's premise also contradicts the statements of many of those highly-decorated vets, who reject the idea that they were discriminated against when they received lesser awards.

James McNaughton, the Army's command historian based at the Presidio, led a Congressionally-mandated review of Asian-American veterans' service records. He was not asked to determine whether discrimination occurred against Asian-American recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross; that was simply presumed. Dr. McNaughton acknowledges in his final report that "[s]ocial and legal discrimination against Asian-Americans was widespread in American society in the 1940s." But he noted that his team found no evidence in the Army awards process that recommendations for medals "were rejected or downgraded on the basis of race."

He also noted that "white officers made sure that their Japanese-American soldiers received full recognition for valor," and in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur "awarded medals to Filipino and white soldiers alike."

Moreover, the famous 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team two Japanese-American units that fought in Italy and France were among the most highly decorated units in American history. Four thousand members of those units won 1 Medal of Honor, 53 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, more than 9,000 Purple Hearts, and 8 Presidential Unit Citations.

How could the military lavish such honors on these Asian-American heroes soon after the war ended and at the same time be accused of unjustly discriminating against them nearly six decades later?

Sen. Akaka launched his drive after watching the Congressional Black Caucus successfully pressure President Clinton into awarding Medals of Honors to black WWII veterans in 1993. The minority leaders argue that statistical disparities in the number of top medals awarded to non-white vets prove discrimination. Wrong. All it proves is how rigorous the careful, case-by-case awards process is -- or used to be.

Only about 3,400 Medals of Honor have been awarded since the Civil War. Famous war heroes such as President Teddy Roosevelt and Army General George S. Patton both coveted the medal, but never received it. Some 15 million Americans volunteered to serve the cause of freedom during WWII, but only about 1 in 35,000 vets in that era received the nation's highest honor.

The idea that every ethnic group deserves a statistical proportion of this top military accolade is un-American. It transforms a nation's solemn tribute to valor into a cheap social engineering exercise. Color-coded badges of honor corrupt military tradition, damage morale, and lower the standards of bravery and exceptional service for all. It's another ignominious Clinton legacy to contemplate this Memorial Day weekend.


JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.

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