Reveille for Ridiculous

In the early 1950s, Communist witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy's top slayers-Republican lawyers Roy Cohen and David Schine-flew to pre-Castro Havana for, as historian Nicholas Von Hoffman has written, "a few days of sun fun." Cohen and the dapper Schine, who may also have been Cohen's secret gay lover at the time, complained before the vacation that their nerves were shot from battling the Communist menace. When the youthful, tanned pair returned to Capitol Hill, they faced Philip Potter, a veteran Baltimore Sun reporter. Potter, who had been shot in the then-ongoing Korean War, asked the men "if they were such avid anti-Communists, why the hell hadn't they gone over there and started shooting them?"

The men mumbled something about luck, according to Von Hoffman. But the truth was that while other Americans gave their lives and limbs in real battle, McCarthy's Communist hunters used political connections to avoid combat duty.

That story came to mind on April Fool's Day, when Orange County's bitter, defeated ex-Congressman Robert K. Dornan-who was trampled by Democrat Loretta Sanchez in November -appeared as a guest on CNBC's Hardball with host Chris Matthews. An effusive Dornan was deferentially called congressman and puzzlingly described as a military expert. Dornan never landed the $1 million-per-year talk-radio show he bragged about, which might explain why he appeared delighted to be back in the national television spotlight on CNBC.

When asked to critique NATO and U.S. military operations in Kosovo, Dornan smiled-as if savoring the moment-before excitedly answering.

"I left you in the lobby yesterday, gung-ho to bomb furiously and hit all the bridges on the Danube [River]," a greasy-haired, red-faced Dornan told Matthews. "The Pope weighed in-that rattled my brain."

Matthews fell for Dornan's oblique teaser. He asked what the Pope had said about Kosovo.

A glib Dornan replied disapprovingly, "He wants peace for Easter."

For years, I had witnessed newspapers like The Orange County Registerdeclare without attribution on their news pages that Dornan was known around the world not as a wife beater, bigot or right-wing political fanatic, but as a "military expert." In the era of Monica Lewinsky, it's not surprising that a TV network (albeit a cable network founded by conservative political operatives) would offer a washed-up, unemployed Republican politician as a knowledgeable military commentator comparable to retired generals, admirals and battle-tested Pentagon strategists.

It is true that during his 18 years in Congress, Dornan did sit on a military committee, where his weighty accomplishments included trying to ban the sales of magazines like Playboy at military bases, ensuring radio access to Rush Limbaugh for the troops, and feverishly inserting anti-gay provisions into dozens of unrelated bills. He also repeatedly referred to himself not just as an expert but also as a genius in military affairs. As far back as the 1960s, Dornan was at least strongly implying to anyone who would listen that he was a "bloodied" combat veteran. During his 1996 presidential campaign, he told reporters: "I have bled for my country. . . . I came as close to death as Bob Dole." Dornan failed to mention that unlike Dole's life-scarring injuries, which were acquired during World War II combat, Dornan's near-death experience was a bloody nose he received when he crashed a training plane.

As an Air Force reserve pilot.

During peacetime.

In Arizona.

During 1994 congressional debates, he called others "cowards," compared himself favorably to General George Patton, and said that he wished he had been alive to fight "during the medieval Crusades, perhaps, or circa King Arthur's Camelot [or] with Davy Crockett at the Alamo, scaling Le Point du Hoc cliffs on D-Day or flown against Hitler's Luftwaffe. . . ."

It's odd that with such a gung-ho war attitude-not unlike that of Cohen and Schine-Dornan ignored the U.S. Army's desperate pleas for able-bodied men willing to go into combat to fight communism during the Korean War. Instead, Dornan roamed the streets of Hollywood and then enrolled in acting classes at Los Angeles' Loyola College (now Loyola Marymount University). While 33,627 Americans his age fought and died in Korea, Dornan acted in plays like The Hasty Heart, Butter and Egg Man, Ten Little Indians and The Man Who Came to Dinner while attending school from September 1950 to January 1953. With negotiations for a Korean War peace settlement advancing, Dornan dropped out of the drama department and joined the Air Force. Instead of going to Korea, however, the self-described "American hero" stayed stateside and became the "writer, director and emcee" of the Air Force singing and impersonation act that toured the southern United States. He performed a near-life-threatening 64 engagements. (Dornan has repeatedly refused to discuss this period in his life.) After the war, still in the reserves, he reportedly crashed three training jets and a helicopter. In the end, the only combat Dornan experienced was on the floor of Congress (where he physically attacked other representatives) or was simulated (he played a fearless military hero in the hilariously awful early 1960s B-movie The Starfighters).

Decades later, in 1999, the public is told-without justification-that Dornan is a military expert. Dornan, of course, accepts the role and gloats about the casualties of war. He enthusiastically told Matthews and the CNBC audience, "Wait until you see pictures like Desert Storm, with young Serbian soldiers hanging out of the turrets of their tanks, burned to a crisp."

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