Friday, March 28, 2008

About that sniper fire

Hillary Clinton has come under fire for transforming her 1996 visit to Tuzla, a base in Bosnia & Hercegovina, into a tale of running for cover under sniper fire.

Some perspective on this flap is in order. Polprint has just finished Means of Ascent, the second volume in Robert Caro's masterful biography of Lyndon Johnson. In the early 1940s LBJ had pledged to Texas voters that if war ever came, he would join their boys on the front lines. So after Pearl Harbor, Johnson hemmed and hawed and finally headed to the Pacific as a "Naval Observer". He tagged along on a single air-bombing raid, during which his plane came under fire from Japanese Zeroes. The flight landed safely. LBJ headed home, having fulfilled the letter if not the spirit of his political pledge, and was awarded a Silver Star by General McArthur.

Not long afterwards, Johnson's wartime service suddenly became magnified. He had not simply tagged along on one flight as an observer; rather, he had "lived with the men on fighting fronts. I flew with them on missions over enemy territory." Once, he claimed to have seen 14 Japanese Zeroes "go down in flames right in front of me." He flourished the silver star to prove his valor. And the press bought it. During the 1948 Senate race in Texas, which Johnson won through hook and crook, one paper cited Johnson's descriptions of how "he was flying in B-29s, helping bomb one Japanese island after another into submission". The Austin-American Statesman wrote of Johnson's "gallantry in combat action".

Johnson would never have survived a day in the Internet era (for this reason and many others). Nonetheless, against such magnifications, Hillary Clinton's exaggerations look tame.

1 comment:

Jean said...

An excellent parallel -- I had forgotten about that. My memory from Means of Ascent is mostly of the gripping, horrible election drama in the contest with Coke Stevenson. Let's hope no Texas Rangers need to go down to inspect ballot boxes in this one ...