When you have lied and defamed people as much as Trump has, it’s easy to believe the current reports that he privately disparaged the war dead, calling the deceased troops “suckers” and “losers.”
The story published in The Atlantic was immediately denied by Trump and he quickly commanded his aides to refute it, including dispatching his chief of staff Mark Meadows to inform reporters that it wasn’t true.
Then, with the story apparently pushed off the front pages, Trump accused Pentagon military leaders of capitulating to defense contractors, which rings as counterintuitive since he’s sought to have them in his corner.
His comment about dead soldiers and the subsequent chastising of top Pentagon officials appear to be related since the military leaders did not rush to his defense. It’s not exactly clear who Trump was targeting in his response, but it very well could have been Defense Secretary Mark Esper or Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which would not be a farfetched conclusion given his dispute with his former advisers and cabinet members.
Attempting to calm things down and pacify Trump, a White House official said that “All the president is saying is that over the decades, some senior career politicians and Pentagon officials have shown an unwillingness to end our endless wars. This president stands with our soldiers serving on the front lines and our great generals and wants to responsibly end these conflicts to bring our troops home.”
Trump’s derision of soldiers may stem from the absence of any military commitment in his background or dismay that he does not have the full authority and confidence of the military. In the wake of this, and the article in The Atlantic notes the fallout between Trump and James Mattis, his former secretary of defense. According to the article, written by Jeffrey Goldberg, Trump’s disparagement came on Memorial Day in 2017 while he was visiting Arlington National Cemetery. He was accompanied by then Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, later to be White House Chief of staff, when they stopped near a site where Kelly’s son, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, is buried.
Goldberg wrote that “Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, ‘I don’t get it. What was in it for them?’ Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.”
But hadn’t he traversed this ground before in his denunciation of John McCain?
“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told Goldberg. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”