About those “crusader coins”

Originally posted elsewhere on 01/19/2011

You may have heard that American journalist, Sy Hersh, recently gave a speech in Qatar in which he claims that a significant portion of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command are actually members of the “Knights of Malta.” Furthermore Sy Hersh charges that they view themselves as leading a 21st century, Christian crusade again Islam. As evidence to support his “crusader” angle, Hersh explains that:

They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins. They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.

Wow! Crusader coins? Really?

So I’m reading a piece that Jonah Goldberg published on this incident at the Corner (Sy Hersh Loses It), and two people familiar with the military suggest an alternative explanation for these coins. The first commenter, who goes by the screen name TLM, states:

Sounds like Sy’s referring to military challenge coins, which have a long history (though not back to the time of the Crusades, I believe). The “little insignia” on mine is a unit designation. Pretty harmless, actually.

Another commenter, Joel Alford, states:

My daughter is in the US Air Force…they have coins they keep and exchange, but they’re from the places they’ve been stationed or visisted…Hersch is quite mad…

I found Hersh’s rambling diatribe to be bizarrely anti-Catholic, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll divulge that I’m not Catholic. It sure looks like Sy Hersh has been reading too many Dan Brown books. If I were to follow the lead of the chattering classes in response to the Tuscon shootings, I would blame Dan Brown for creating a hostile climate of anti-Catholicism which is having a sinister impact on unstable individuals.

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