Advocacy organizations representing millions of veterans across the United States voiced disgust and outrage on September 3 in response to reports from multiple news outlets detailing how President Donald Trump has repeatedly disparaged American soldiers killed or wounded in war as “suckers” and “losers” in private while publicly presenting himself as the unrivaled champion of the nation’s service members.
The Atlantic, citing anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the president’s comments, reported that Trump in 2018 canceled a scheduled visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris “because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead.”
“Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.”
– Jeffrey Goldberg, Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’
Goldberg also detailed Trump’s fixation on the late Arizona Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese after his plane was shot down in 1967, recounting the times in which Trump referred to McCain as a “loser,” which were captured both in tweets and in recordings. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said of McCain in 2015. “I like people who weren’t captured.” Trump received five deferments from service in Vietnam because a doctor stated he suffered from bone spurs in his feet. In 2016, Trump’s campaign said the medical issue was temporary.
“Just so I’m clear:
Nazis = very fine people
Soldiers who died fighting Nazis = losers
– Perry O’Brien, Afghanistan veteran and author of Fire in the Blood: A Novel
The Atlantic additionally reported that during a 2017 visit to Arlington National Cemetery with then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, whose son Robert was buried there, Trump turned to Kelly 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,” the magazine reported. “But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.”
The president’s reported comments, confirmed by the Associated Press and the Washington Post, were immediately condemned by advocacy groups, lawmakers, and individual veterans as further confirmation that Trump has nothing but contempt for former service members whose lives were taken or severely impacted by overseas wars.
“Sunday was the 10th anniversary of when my Battalion Chaplain and four others were killed by an IED while we were serving in Afghanistan. Their ages were 43, 26, 30, 32, and 36. They left behind families. They left behind comrades. None of them are losers. They’re heroes. I would like Wisconsin reporters to ask every GOP elected official if they agree with the President that American troops who gave their lives to serve & protect this country are “losers” and “suckers.” They should not be able to move without hearing that question. By the way, that list of “losers” and “suckers” includes a 19 year old Marine from Oak Creek who died LAST MONTH.”
– Saul Newton, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Army veteran
Democrats pounced on the story, pointing to how the remarks mirrored the president’s past feuds with veterans and Gold Star families. During the 2016 presidential race, Trump memorably clashed with Khizir Khan, whose son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in action during the Iraq War.
“By his accounting, self-sacrifice does not make sense, love does not make sense. According to Trump, the winners in life are those that put themselves before all, and the losers are those that don’t,” said Khan.
From his home in Wilmington, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden angrily lashed out at the president, invoking the memory of his own deceased son. Beau Biden was a Bronze Star recipient for his service in the Iraq War.
“When my son volunteered and joined the U.S. military … and went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other accommodations, he wasn’t a sucker. The service men and women he served with, particularly those that did not come home, were not losers. If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every Gold Star mother and father and every Blue Star family that he’s denigrated and insulted,” Former Vice President Biden said in a statement.
Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient, highlighted a request that the president made during a 2018 White House planning meeting. It was for a military parade and Trump did not want the celebratory event to include wounded veterans, particularly amputees. “Nobody wants to see that,” Trump allegedly said.
Duckworth insisted that Trump’s remarks do not “diminish the sacrifices of wounded soldiers who gave up their limbs like I did for all Americans, including him. The American people know that no one should be ashamed of a disability and that wounded warriors should be honored instead of hidden from view. I’d take my wheelchair and my titanium legs over Donald Trump’s supposed bone spurs any day.”
Her comment was in reference to the medical exemption that granted Trump a deferment from being drafted, allowing him to avoid military service during the Vietnam War.
“This is the person that thinks kneeling is ‘disrespectful to our troops’ right?”
– Mark Pocan, Wisconsin Congressman
The Union Veterans Council, a national labor organization, called Trump “a national disgrace” in the wake the report by The Atlantic. Alexander McCoy, political director of Common Defense, which represents millions of veterans across the U.S., also weighed in on Twitter:
Attn: my fellow @USMC vets.
The President thinks the 1,800 fallen of the battle of Belleau Wood were “suckers.”
Will Goodwin, an Army veteran and director of government relations for advocacy group VoteVets, said Trump’s statement was not surprising, because it was not the first time the president had attacked veterans. He said it was, however, a new low even for Trump.
“There is no rhyme or reason for Trump to cruelly attack our nation’s fallen heroes. And it is especially egregious given that he’s the commander in chief of our Armed Forces,” said Goodwin. “Donald Trump does not respect our men and women in uniform. He does not respect their families. He does not respect veterans. And worse, he has matched his vile language with action. He has abused our military, has made our country less safe, and has put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way for his own political gain.”
In a series of tweets on September 4, Trump refuted the comments attributed to him in The Atlantic. He wrote, falsely, that he never called late Republican Senator John McCain a “loser.” Aside from accusations that Trump is a habitual liar, he routinely denies making statements even when extensive video exists that document what he actually said.