Lerner in American Thinker: Profiles in Courage

The award of only six Medals of Honor for heroic conduct in Afghanistan and Iraq is the result of continued stringent application of award guidelines, says Professor Craig Lerner, rather than politicized actions of the Department of Defense, as some have suggested.

"The incidence of Medal of Honor awards as a percentage of total participants in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is lower than that of twentieth century wars, but these campaigns have been only fractionally as deadly," says Lerner. "Indeed, as a percentage of the 5,100 who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, 6 Medals of Honor is an almost identical rate of awards as that achieved in World War I and World War II."

Early in the twentieth century, the Department of Defense established methodical protocols to govern award of the medal, and those protocols have resulted in an award system that is uniformly stringent in its application.

Lerner suggests that rather than offering criticism of the Medal of Honor selection process, Congress should instead shift its focus to treating its own expenditure of taxpayer revenues by strict standards similar to those followed by the Pentagon in awarding the Medal of Honor, with significant internal review and an overriding sense of miserliness.

Profiles in Courage, American Thinker, September 17, 2009. By Craig S. Lerner.

"This is unfortunate because in an era of rampant grade inflation -- and out-of-control federal spending -- the Medal of Honor stands out, conspicuously, as an instance in which standards and parsimony have been preserved. The award was created during the Civil War, and a ragged selection process resulted in several dubious recipients throughout the 19th century.  Among the most controversial Medals of Honor were the twenty awarded after the one-day skirmish with the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890.

"In the early twentieth century, however, the Defense Department scrutinized earlier medals, rescinding hundreds, and implementing methodical protocols to ensure the integrity of the award. Much like the Vatican's traditional canonization process, which included a devil's advocate (or advocatus diaboli) to gainsay every candidacy for sainthood, the presumption is against issuing the award, and overwhelming evidence is expected to overcome this presumption.

"The consistent application of this stringent test preserved the award's rarity throughout the twentieth century. Medal of Honor winners made up .0025% of those who fought in World War I (119 of 4.7 million), .0029% of World War II veterans (464 of 16.1 million), .0023% of Korean War veterans (133 of 5.7 million) and .0028% of Vietnam War veterans (246 of 8.7 million)."
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