THIS IS WHAT it’s all about. I am here at the national convention of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. This is a group that honors the men and one woman who have been awarded (never say “won”) the Congressional Medal of Honor. I was invited here to Denver to speak to these nice people because I write and speak so often about how much we owe the military.
The other primary honorees are Bob Dole, my neighbor at the Watergate, and Clint Eastwood, and my dream girl, Laura Bush.
There was a long cocktail hour where I spoke to many Medal of Honor recipients. My favorite was a guy who was working in a meatpacking plant in Illinois and was in the Illinois National Guard. He was sent to Vietnam to guard an airstrip.
One night he and his buddies were idling away the time when the Viet Cong attacked with mortars, grenades, and assault rifles. “I was buried by the explosion of the first mortar round,” he said. “Then I dug myself out and just started firing away at the guys crawling towards us. I could just see them crawling a few yards away and I just kept shooting. I got wounded four or five times and I just kept shooting and their bodies piled up and all of my men were wounded and I figured I was dead anyway so I had better keep shooting. And I did, and after a few hours, there just weren’t any more Viet Cong, and a helicopter came and took me away.
“I was in the hospital a few months and then I went back to working at the meatpacking plant. And next thing I knew, it was a couple of years later, and my foreman comes over to me and says there’s a call for me from the White House.
“So I go to somebody’s office and take the call, and it’s someone at the White House saying President Nixon wants me at the White House the next month to give me the Medal of Honor.”
“Amazing,” I said.
“So I went and it was a great ceremony and I shook the president’s hand, and then it was over.” “What did you do after that?” I asked. “I went back to working at the meatpacking plant,” he answered with some surprise. “What else would I do?”
This is what all of these guys were like. Modest. Down to earth. Humble. No bragging at all. NONE. Just, “I did what anyone else would have done. The brave ones didn’t make it back. The brave ones are buried. The brave ones’ bodies were never found.” That kind of thing.
One man summed up his feelings. “I didn’t do anything special,” he said. “I just stayed around to fight five minutes longer than the other guys. That’s what made all of the difference in this world.”
I met an astounding man whom I had read about. His name is Tibor Rubin. He was a Hungarian Jew. The Nazis put him in Mauthausen and his family in Auschwitz. He survived the war, just barely, and was liberated by American forces. He was deeply impressed by the “G.I. Joes” he met and wanted to be one. After years in a displaced persons camp, he came to America. He was a butcher, then joined the Army and fought with astounding courage in Korea. He single-handedly held off large assaults and saved many of his comrades. After one horrifying fight, he was captured and put in a North Korean prison. It was discovered that he was from Hungary. The North Koreans offered to send him home, a “free man” to Communist Hungary. He refused and stayed with his fellow prisoners. He used his survival skills from Mauthausen to scour for food and save many of the Americans from starvation.
Because of anti-Semitism by his superior officers, Tibor Rubin was not recommended for any commendations at all until 1996. Then, he was asked to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was given to him by President George W. Bush. I grasped his hand (he was in a wheelchair) and kissed it. I told him I was blessed to be on the same planet as he was.
There were about a thousand men and women at the event. I sat between Clint and a super woman whose husband had been awarded the medal posthumously for his heroism in fighting from a helicopter behind Communist lines in Laos. He had died in 1969, I believe, and it had taken 30 years to find his remains. Then he was awarded the medal posthumously. There is no way to honor that man, his wife, his children, enough.
The MC of the evening was Wayne Newton. He is a fabulous guy and super polite. Clint was extremely pleasant and self-effacing, and still startlingly handsome at 78.
I told the men and women what was on my mind. That they go off to fight and die and lose their limbs for us, and we pay almost zero attention to them. That they go off and do acts of courage we can only dream of and we stay at home and worship money and show biz fame. That they go off to fight for us and while they are gone, thugs and tricksters rob this country blind. That while they are getting shot, other human beings are looting America.
These men and women, these families, are what it’s all about.
I brought my pal Jane, whose mother survived five years in Auschwitz and lost her whole family to Hitler except for one sister, and her daughter Lizzie, a sweet child, to the event so Lizzie could see the men who allow her to live in a free country. Jane, whose father lost his entire family to the Nazis, was deeply moved throughout the evening.
The Marine colonel who gave us our awards kept saying how the men in the room had killed more “Commenists” than John Wayne and had ended “World Commenism.” Not quite, but wow, these are supermen.
I went to sleep in a deep haze of gratitude. I am terrified about the stock market, but deeply, deeply, deeply grateful to these fine men. God gave them to us.
I AM LISTENING TO THE DEBATE between Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama on the radio. I was watching it on TV but I found the facial expressions of the men distracting. On the radio, McCain is far, far better than Obama. But why doesn’t he make the obvious point that no one has to cut spending to pay for the immense Wall Street bailout? It won’t be inflationary because it simply replaces one set of bank assets with another. The moderator, Jim Lehrer, was trying to trick them, I guess. Maybe Lehrer didn’t know himself.
Anyway, this whole financial crisis plays to McCain’s strengths, if he would only realize it. Wall Street can be beaten down only by a man who is utterly unafraid of bullies. That’s John McCain. Wall Street is just a bunch of big talkers and guys who think they’re tough. McCain is a doer who really is tough. Obama is a great guy but has never taken on the special interests the way McCain has. Why doesn’t the McCain campaign make that point?
Come to think of it, why has the McCain campaign never once contacted me about this subject I know so well? Well, probably they hate me because I want the rich to pay more taxes.
Back to the financial crisis. I don’t want to numb your mind. But I think it was all a huge conspiracy. Cunning men created these faulty mortgage bonds. Cunning men sold them to the public. More cunning men sold them short. Then they ultimately created derivatives around them that created a financial Doomsday Device, to paraphrase Buffett. Congress must make laws to annul these derivatives, which are basically economic treason. Just my view.
A HORRIBLE, AWFUL day. Really bad. I started out in a hotel room in Philadelphia. To tell the truth, it was one of the most dreary hotel rooms I have ever been in. Like a cheap hotel room from a film noir movie. But my wife was nearby—just a few feet away—so I felt a lot better than I otherwise would.
I also was in a pretty good mood because two days ago, I spent the afternoon at Walter Reed visiting sick and wounded soldiers. It is always inspiring and this time was no exception. I was especially moved by a soldier—23 years old—who had been blown 150 feet into the air when the Taliban bombed his armored truck in Afghanistan. His mangled self had been found 300 feet from his truck. He lost one whole leg and part of another and has serious brain injuries.
But he was trying to be brave and was quite friendly. I am wildly impressed. I met so many brave men and women I felt good about America. Then, after I awakened in Philly, I went down to speak to a group of insurance people. Mutual Insurance people. They were incredibly cheerful, upbeat, and intelligent. Mostly from small towns, which I love a lot. I get along really well with small-town people. I think it’s because my parents grew up in small towns and Silver Spring, when I grew up there, was small and all-American.
Anyway, I gave my speech, took a nap, and headed home to D.C. with my wifey by my side.
Phil DeMuth called to tell me the stock market was down 700 points and I felt sick. You cannot imagine how hard I have worked for my savings and now because of major incompetence on Wall Street, major incompetence in the government, and (what I am sure is) a conspiracy to wreck the financial system, I am losing a huge chunk of my savings. This is not an accident. This was human misconduct on a titanic scale, mostly having to do with credit default swaps, terrifying financial instruments that are, as Warren Buffett called them, “weapons of financial mass destruction.” He thought they would be latent for a while and now they are blowing up the whole world. I think the wet work, as we spy novel readers call it, was done by cunning traders in New York and London. But it might as well have been done by the Taliban or by al Qaeda.
I wonder if there is a crime based on economic treason. If not, there should be.
Everyone told us to save. We did save. They told us to save most in the stock market. We did. We diversified. NOTHING WORKED except having it in Treasury bonds or guaranteed CDs. We citizens didn’t do anything wrong and we got looted fantastically. The system has been hollowed out by thieves and gangsters in pinstripe suits. And Henry Paulson just sat there sucking his thumb and asking for even less regulation and Chris Cox did the same over at the SEC.
Wow. Why was the market down so much? Because the House of Representatives voted down the big bailout package for the banks. Why did they do that? Because Americans are disgusted with Wall Street sucking money out of us like giant ticks, growing fat and bloated with our blood. We don’t want to give them still more money, especially under the supervision of Paulson, who never remotely did a thing to save us from the unfolding catastrophe and is only in it to help out his ultra-rich Wall Street buddies.
It is a stinky bailout, but it has to be passed anyway. It is really, really sad.
It is almost unbelievable the damage the finance people have done. Never in peacetime has so much damage been done to so many by so few. Paid the most in history by the citizens to do the most harm in history to the citizens. Treason. Or something like it.
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer in Beverly Hills and Malibu.
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