Obama presented the nephew of the Rev. Emil Kapaun with the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery. Rev. Kapaun died at the age of 35 in 1951, after spending six months in captivity during the Korean War.
President Obama said, “This is the valor we honor today — an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live.”
Is Obama talking about Kapaun’s love for his brothers on the North Korean team that was shooting at U.S. soldiers? Because that is what Kapaun was about; he loved and saw all men as his brothers, and that is why he would not pick up a gun.
What Kapaun did is up there with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Henry David Thoreau, the great writer who refused to pay his taxes because of U.S. military violence and went to jail for it. These are men who would die for their belief in nonviolence. They walked the talk. Obama is not one of these men.
Obama said of Kapaun, “I can’t imagine a better example for all of us…to follow.” Except Obama. He will not “wield the mightiest weapon of all, love,” no, he will continue to use drones as his favorite weapon. How does he get away with making these feel-good “love” speeches when he blows people up with drones?
Kapaun doesn’t even qualify for getting the Medal of Honor, which is given to a soldier who puts herself or himself “at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against any enemy of the United States.”
Kapaun went to Korea to help in any way he could, but he also was making a huge nonviolence statement: “I am in Korea, during the Korean War, but I am not in war with anyone!” This is the beautiful part. He was there, in the heat of the battles, and he was not “in war” with anyone — he was not “engaged in an action against any enemy of the United States.” Kapaun had no enemies! He saw the North Koreans as his brothers.
The users of war, like Obama, want to use Kapaun’s story to promote and romanticize war, but Kapaun was never in war; if he was alive today, he might have refused to accept such an award.
Kapaun’s story is not a war story; he was determined that it would not be. Kapaun’s main objective was to go to Korea and not engage in an action of violence against anyone, and he accomplished his mission — what a powerful story.
The young and slight Kapaun was a giant of a man. He would cross enemy lines, gently push aside the North Korean guns pointed at him, then pick up a wounded soldier and carry him away.
He is not a war hero; he is an anti-war hero. He needs to be kept separate from the Korean War, because he was not in it. It is a disservice to give him a war medal (“The Valor We Honor Today,” Star Tribune, April 12).
Frank Erickson lives in Minneapolis.