Calling out people who disrespect veterans can’t be based on politics

By Michael d’Oliveira

When President Donald Trump criticized Senator John McCain’s war record in 2015, many prominent Republicans chose not to criticize him publicly. That list includes Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska. When Trump said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured,” Palin’s response was to say McCain and Trump were both great in their own way.

But this week, Palin has heavily criticized comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for an “interview” he did with her for his new show “Who Is America?” Palin accused Baron Cohen of disrespecting the military because he pretended to be a disabled veteran.

This is part of her Facebook post, “The disrespect of our US military and middle-class Americans via Cohen’s foreign commentaries under the guise of interview questions was perverse. Here is my challenge, shallow Sacha boy: go ahead – air the footage. Experience tells us it will be heavily edited, not pretty, and intended to humiliate. The challenge is to Cohen, CBS and Showtime: donate all proceeds to a charitable group that actually respects and supports American Vets. Mock politicians and innocent public personalities all you want, if that lets you sleep at night, but HOW DARE YOU mock those who have fought and served our country.”

Trump clearly mocked McCain, and, by extension, many other POWS, by belittling McCain’s status as a war hero. McCain isn’t a war hero just because he was captured. He’s a war hero because of how he conducted himself during his imprisonment.

Even Trump, two years after his McCain comments, said POWs were heroes. “NEVER forget our HEROES held prisoner or who have gone missing in action while serving their country,” he wrote on Twitter. No apology to McCain has come though.

Respecting the men and women of our military, past and present, is a value that all Americans should believe in.

And how we respond to those who fail to respect our military shouldn’t be predicated on who they are or what political party they belong to. Like all things, our response should be about what was said or done, not who said or did it.

Palin is just the latest example of how what should be the rule is the exception. Both parties can be hypocritical on many issues, including how veterans are treated. They’ve both certainly failed, either by incompetence or apathy, to provide everything veterans are entitled to.

As for Palin’s opinion of how Baron Cohen treated veterans, until the video of what happened surfaces, it’s impossible to really form an opinion. Maybe he did “mock” veterans, as Palin accused him of doing. The thing with Baron Cohen though is that he plays a character to get a reaction. He’s not giving his real opinion.

In a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone, he explained how he uses Borat to tell a bigger story and reveal how there are still many people with bigoted views – views they might otherwise not reveal. 

“Borat essentially works as a tool. By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well’ [a song performed at a country & western bar during Da Ali G Show] was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought that it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism. But to me it revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism.”