Donald Trump has been left fuming by a story in The Atlantic that describes him as unwilling to honour the US’s war dead, instead repeatedly calling lost service members and prisoners of war “losers” and “suckers”.
Written by the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg and drawing on multiple anonymous sources, the story has been met with outrage from the president’s supporters and Mr Trump himself.
At the core of the article’s analysis is a picture of a cynical, frustrated president who “simply does not understand non-transactional life choices”, and who therefore cannot but view military volunteers as “suckers” who failed to secure anything for themselves.
It also quotes various sources describing assorted unflattering incidents involving war dead. One describes him refusing to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris on the basis that “it’s filled with losers”; another recalls him telling his staff not to include amputee veterans in a military parade, allegedly saying “nobody wants to see that”.
Mr Trump has fiercely denied the article’s claims, asking “what animal would say that?” and suggested its quotes came from disgruntled former staffers.
“Probably it’s a couple of people that have been failures in the administration that I got rid of,” Mr Trump said to journalists on the tarmac as he arrived back in Washington after a campaign stop on Thursday. “And I couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. Or it was just made up … There’s not much more I can say. All they’re trying to do is influence a presidential election.”
The president, however, has publicly expressed contempt for fallen or captured service members before, in particular during his first presidential campaign. When the parents of Humayun Khan, a soldier killed in the Iraq War, appeared at Hillary Clinton’s nominating convention in 2016, Mr Trump suggested that his mother had been barred from speaking.
He also ran into trouble over a 2017 call of condolence he made to Mayeshia Johnson, whose husband Sgt La David Johnson was killed in Niger by Islamic militants. Ms Johnson said that Mr Trump’s tone of voice made her cry, that Mr Trump could not remember her husband’s name, and that he blithely told her “he knew what he signed up for”. Mr Trump said her account was “fabricated”.
More notoriously still, he denigrated the service of senator John McCain, then widely considered one of the nation’s greatest living war heroes. At a 2015 event, he dismissed Mr McCain’s service as failure. “He’s not a war hero,” said Mr Trump of the man who spent years being tortured in a Vietnamese jail. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
In the Atlantic piece, he is quoted privately insisting that his administration not support Mr McCain's 2018 funeral and ranting about flags flown at half-mast in his honour. “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” he reportedly said.
After the article’s publication, he defended his well-known personal dislike of Mr McCain on Twitter but maintained that he gave the green light to a full-scale funeral – while also complaining that the article as a whole is an assault on his own presidential campaign.
“I never called John a loser and swear on whatever, or whoever, I was asked to swear on, that I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES,” he wrote. “This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting & jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 Election!”
In a statement to The Atlantic, the White House said the story “has no basis in fact”, and listed various of his administration’s moves to improve military lives.
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