Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What Did Vietnam Generation Members of Congress Do in the War or More Appropriately, How Did Most Politicians Manage to Dodge the Draft?


Memorial Day and Veterans Day used to be my favorite holidays because it was the time when most of the Vietnam-era aged politicians would be polishing up their "why I couldn't serve" excuses.  With the passage of time, memories fade and people forget those tumultuous times when brave men and women answered the call when their country needed them while others founds way to avoid their responsibilities and let other serve in their place.  What used to gall me wasn't that I had to listen to such dribble from politicians but rather that they really expected me to believe them!  My last name might be ethnic but I didn't just roll off the boat last night!

Also, with the passing of time, fewer and fewer Members of Congress come from the 1941-1950 cohort, the prime draft age during that war.  There are still 27 Senators from that age cohort of which only three (3) saw active military duty but only one sports a Vietnam Service Ribbon.  In the House there are still 99 from that cohort with ten (10) having seen active duty but only four (4) are Vietnam Vets.  Then there’s Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) who claimed to be a Vietnam Vet but was really only a reservist whose only active duty was a short stint for training.  In his defense, he had seen a HBO rerun of the Oliver Stone movie Platoon.

Here is a graphic listing all the Vietnam generation Congress members that shows what they “did during the War.”

Active military service was an absolute certainty for any male born between 1941 and the end of 1950 unless he was morally, mentally or medically unfit, or took some overt action to "dodge" the draft.  THAT IS A FACT.  Draft dodging does not necessarily mean “illegal” as the Webster’s Dictionary of the time defined a “Draft Dodger” simply as “a person who avoids military service.”  Applying for student or occupational deferments, leaving the country, feigning homosexuality, hiring a sympathetic doctor to “discover” a disqualifying ailment or signing up for ROTC without any intentions of participating were all things people did, legally and illegally, to avoid performing their duty. Also, as Dan Rather reported in his discredited documentary on Bush 43’s National Guard service, Reserve and National Guard membership during Vietnam and present day service is much different.  Now Reservists and Guardsmen are likely to be called up and serve in a war zone but during Vietnam, they had about as much chance of going to Vietnam as being struck by lightning.  Slots in Reserve and Guard units were highly sought after and were normally reserved for the well off and politically connected.  Hence, I don't care if your name is Clinton, Cheney, Biden, Romney or a host of other politicians, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t insult my intelligence with lame excuses.

President Bill Clinton, after receiving a host of deferments and two draft notices, finally received his notice to report for induction into the Army.  “Slick Willie” quickly sent a sworn affidavit to his draft board stating he was enrolling in ROTC at the University of Arkansas although he had no intention of ever enrolling at Arkansas let alone in ROTC.  He just needed to delay his induction long enough for the lottery to go into effect in hopes he would draw a high number.  He did and his unethical behavior resulted in someone less eligible and definitely less educated serving in his place.  He probably learned the wrong lesson from that experience of not being prosecuted for perjury as it possibly led to his later similar misconduct which resulted in his perjury conviction in the Monica Lewinski case.  Luck can only last so long!

Vice President Dick Cheney was equally diligent in his draft dodging efforts.  His claim that "If called, I would have been happy to serve" was a little disingenuous when in fact he did everything short of maiming himself (which he didn’t have the guts to do) to make sure he was unavailable to be called. When Cheney became Vietnam draft eligible, he applied for and received five draft deferments. During his 1989 Secretary of Defense confirmation hearings he testified that he “had other priorities in the '60s than military service” and that he received multiple deferments to finish a college career that lasted six years rather than four, “owing to sub-par academic performance.”  He then received a fifth "hardship" exemption when his wife was pregnant. Hence, he successfully “waited out” his draft board until he turned 26 and was no longer draft eligible!

Draft dodging must have been a plus in selecting vice presidents.  Joe Biden went through so many obscene machinations to dodge the Vietnam draft it was breathtaking.  After his fifth deferment ran out he actually received his Induction Notice and was unfortunate enough to pass his draft physical.  Undeterred by that small setback, Joe shopped around for a sympathetic doctor who successfully "discovered" an undetected childhood disqualification so Joe could send a less qualified (and definitely poorer and less educated) replacement in his stead.   I remember how Senator (and Medal of Honor recipient) Bob Kerrey put it in 1992 when he said  about the Draft “as I remember it, at that time if you could walk and chew gum, the military would take you.”   I was drafted in Biden’s hometown of Scranton Pennsylvania and my first hand experience was that unless you had a disqualifying condition that a doctor could visually detect like missing an arm or a leg, you were going to pass your draft physical. 

Now Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney was really creative. Romney started out with two Student Deferments and then left the U.S. for a thirty-month stay in France as a Mormon missionary for which he received a “ministerial deferment.”  When he returned he received another two student deferments. Like Clinton, Mitt just needed to delay his induction long enough for the lottery to go into effect in hopes he would draw a high number.  He did and his unethical behavior also resulted in someone less eligible and definitely less educated serving in his place.  Unlike Clinton, Mitt supported the War and even Nixon's Cambodian Incursion so he and Dick Cheney qualify as Chicken-Hawks; politicians that fully support wars, just so long as they don’t have to fight in them.

I used to view Bush 43 with the same disdain as Clinton, Cheney, Biden and Romney until my research revealed he actually served longer on active duty than Al Gore did and was probably in more danger flying antique Air National Guard Convair F-102s than Gore was during his 4 month stint in Vietnam as an Engineer Brigade newsletter journalist or maybe even I was during my extended CIB earning combat Infantry tour.

The fact that so many Democrat and Republican politicians were Draft Dodgers shows that it was a bi-partisan character flaw that seemed to afflict politicians at a much higher rate than the rest of the general population.  The draft dodging politicians serving in Congress today can certainly campaign on their “Military expertise” by pointing to their uncanny ability to “avoid armed conflicts” in their youth.   

When evaluating Vietnam generation politicians, consider draft quotas were assigned by draft board and when one man evaded, one of his neighbors, often less educated or advantaged and always less eligible, served in his place.  also, because many of the more capable natural leaders avoided service, we often had to settle for less capable leadership.  Think of how many American lives could have been saved if leaders with the potential of Clinton, Cheney, Biden, Romney or many of those still in Congress had only done their duty.  Isn't it ironic how correct Clinton was when he used to say that "it's the little guy who plays by the rules that always ends up taking it in the neck."

Although much of the “history” of that era has been re-written by Draft Dodgers, up until Tet of 1968 the overwhelming majority of Americans supported the war and only then did the mood begin to slowly shift. It is arguable that the anti‑war movement never really enjoyed the support of a majority of the country as evidenced by the fact that Nixon won by a landslide in ’72 over a George McGovern who would have had us cut and run out of Vietnam before the end of his inaugural speech! 

Seems revisionist historians have fallen victim to what the Washington Post dubbed in their 1986 in depth examination of who actually fought the Vietnam War "The Myth of the Vietnam Vet." The article stated: "The man who fought in Vietnam is typically depicted as a draftee, unwilling and probably black. In fact, 73 percent of those who died were volunteers and 12.5 percent were black (out of an age group that comprised 13.5 percent of the male population)."  It goes on to point out that the average “name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall” was a kid from a middle class Zip Code. 

Despite the efforts of these revisionist historians and Hollywood producers to ascribe only the highest of moral ideals to draft resisters while assigning the most sinister of motives to those of us who served, the truth is that the vast majority of draft avoiders were just plain "chicken."  So when you ask your Vietnam generation politicians “What did you do during the War?” these are the only three truthful responses they can give you:
  • When called, I responded and served.  Sometimes reluctantly but I did the right thing.
  • I was a quiet Draft Dodger!  I kept my head down; applied for all the deferments I could find, legal or illegal; and if my draft board finally found me, I did everything I could to make myself ineligible.  As a last resort if I just couldn’t beat the draft and my family was politically connected, I secured one of the coveted spots in the Reserves or National Guard so at least it was guaranteed that I would never be in danger of seeing Vietnam.
  • I was an obnoxious Draft Dodger!  I spent my time with flowers in my hair protesting the war and burning my draft while smoking pot and doing other drugs.  Unlike the quite Draft Dodgers, if my draft board caught up with me I went underground and often fled the country for Canada or Sweden.
Just one final thought, if the Clintons, Cheneys, Bidens, Romneys or many other Vietnam generation politicians were "unfit" to serve in their youth when their country needed them badly, what makes them any more fit to serve now?  At least they can begin on their way to redemption by being honest.  Instead of continually spinning yarns that "Ripley wouldn't believe" about why they didn’t serve, can't they just come clean and confess "I was scared, I didn't want to go, and I found a way to avoid it."  Then and only then can they begin regaining a little self-respect and the respect of the rest of us.