Draft-avoidance, Clinton, Bush and Cheney
In your response to my Homosexuality and the Service post, you wrote the following:
Especially given his draft-avoidance via college deferrment, Clinton was in very low regard throughout the military.I was aware that draft-avoidance was a bone of contention for many anti-Clinton folks.
Both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. Bush's non-Vietnam experience is well known. Cheney reportedly enjoyed five deferrments during which he also attended college.
I should point out that as a pacifist, I don't have a fundamental problem with draft-avoidance. If I was George H.W. Bush, I would have pulled strings to get my son into the National Guard, too. If I was Cheney, I would have tried to stay in college and get multiple deferrments for as long as possible.
My father, married and just out of college faced the draft in 1965. Instead of being drafted into the army he chose to enlist in the Air Force instead. He and my mother moved to Texas while my father went to OCS and then pilot training (F-4 fighter) at Lanark AFB. My mother lived off-base in a motel with a group of other Air Force wives.
In the end, three-quarters of the way through pilot training, my father got a kidney stone and was hospitalized on base. Once the stone had passed, he returned to his barracks from the hospital to find a note instructing him to report to his CO. He did so, and was medically discharged on the spot. The Air Force wanted no responsibility over him as the kidney stone apparently revealed some sort of congenital kidney deficiency. (Fortunately for him, the kidney deficiency didn't bother him again until he was over 60 years old!)
There were all sorts of circumstances that kept young men out of Vietnam proper.
Do Bush and Cheney's draft-avoidance methods place them in low regard with you or with the military in general? Do their experiences differ from those of Bill Clinton in your eyes? Why?
There are big differences between the way soldiers today view Vietnam and the way most of that generation did at the time. Soldiers today are pretty matter of fact about such things. Running away to Canada was cowardly, and showed no sense of personal responsibility for one's country. National Guard service was a choice, but a perfectly valid one.
Mnay National Guard units deployed to Vietnam, obviously some didn't. Being drafted was a real good way of ending up in Vietnam, volunteering for service gave you some options. Very few veterans today think there's anything wrong with that, the modern volunteer Army is ALL about what you can get in your enlistment (or re-enlistment) contract.
Some conservatives during and since the war might disparage Guard service as a way of avoiding Vietnam, but I think that's not too common an attitude. I hear my father-in-law describe what he and his buddies did in WW II and Korea, and most men who might be soldiers have always played the angles or tried to find the best service or the best duty or the best deal. Vietnam was no different.
For the guys who did go to Vietnam, especially those drafted, many resented that others got out of going or found easier duty. But that's a far cry from how they felt about deserters, draft dodgers, and conscientious objectors. College deferrments? Likewise, soldiers of the time certainly thought of that as the college boys gaming the system to get out of the fight. There was a fair amount of class and socio-economic fault lines in Vietnam and those who served, but that had to do with opportunity and how those might be more difficult to come by for some than for others.
Clinton got a bad rap with soldiers because of his avoidance of the draft on a college deferrment, and subsequent decisions that made soldiers feel that as Commander in Chief he was at least ambivalent about them, and at worse antagonistic. Don't ask, don't tell, what was seen as military adventurism (this was before 9/11), perceived use of the military for public relations, and the Monica Lewinsky reminiscent Berets -- all of these diminished Clinton's standing.
By the way, Gore suffered from the perception of his service as well, much like Kerry. Gore did a short stint as a Army Press reporter if I understand it, so he could get combat time, patches, etc., before Senator Gore pulled him back home post-haste. Kerry's 4 months in the combat zone, possible self-recommending himself for awards, then abandoning his crew, and of course his Winter Soldier escapade. (He reminds me of Annie's hippie boyfriend in Forrest Gump, who hits Annie when mad, but then blames it on that "damned Johnson.")
Most of us didn't really know Cheney, but he had served as a Defense Secretary and had the link to Reagan and Bush 41, so he kind of got a free pass. You might remember Dan Quaile was a Guardsman who avoided Vietnam, but he was almost a complete unknown and pretty lightweight, and I don't think it was even on the radar. And Bush 41 was the most unlikely of war heroes, although a Fighter Pilot in WWII, he had more of the career bureaucrat air about him from all his CIA and Washington insider time, so he didn't benefit as much as he could have from his war record.
George W. Bush? He was trained as a Pilot. His unit could have been called up, some were, and many of those who proceeded him did. He volunteered at one point to go, but there is some evidence that his father's influence could have caused him to lose or miss the opportunity. By the time he was fully trained, the model he flew was less in need than it had been.
But I don't think any of that really matters to 90% of GIs. They like him because he so clearly likes the military. He treats military people great and with deep respect. And he's learned enough about what makes them tick that he doesn't come off sounding like someone who only knows what to say because someone wrote down the words for him. He's a natural, and soldiers hate phony more than anything.
And he came away from 9/11 wanting to kick some butt. He believes deeply in this purpose, in the crucial need to win, the danger of our adversaries and the dangerous consequences if we lose. He risked his future and his legacy on some bold foreign policy decisions that may still go south. But if we succeed, and the Middle East continues its shift away from Terror and Oppression and towards democracy, his gamble will be remembered as the stunning U.S. Foreign Policy achievement of the century.
And soldiers want to win, they're fed up with being used as tokens on some Diplomatic gameboard. They know their lives are worth more than that. If they're going to risk their lives for something, they want it to be grand and big and important and something that changes the world for the better. And if they can kick some terrorist or dictator butt in the process, well that just counts as icing on the cake.
LiberalAvenger responds again:
I'm disappointed by your response here.
Partisanship aside, as a grown man and as a soldier, do you really believe that Kerry recommended himself for his awards? This has never been proven.
You appear to be attributing the best of intentions to the Republicans you speak of and the worst of intentions to the Democrats across the board.
Dadmanly responds again:
At first I was puzzled by your disappointment, but I think you make your point clearer in the comments. I do think otherwise sensible people on the left and right (whether Democrat, Republican, or unaffiliated) do tend to hound the political opposition to their graves. I've read a lot about of criticism about Ronald Reagan that would fir that category, but surely Republicans and conservatives can be rightly accused as well.
I think a big difference is that many of the battles that underlie the animosity are STILL actively being fought. The accurate legacy of Vietnam (did we lose, or win but withdraw?), the Cold War (were the Soviets or even Communism worth fighting), Socialism and/or Welfare Reform. And as far as Kerry, Clinton, and Gore, these individuals or their close associates (how's that for a euphemism, "I was once Bill's close associate") are still out there, if not in direct opposition as a candidate or potential candidate, than a political surrogate to a slugfest.
As a veteran, there is a big difference in the ways variuous candidates and politicians used (and exploited) their service. And yes, given several ket sets of facts, I believe John Kerry largely invented and certainly exaggerated his service records multiple times, for one set of purposes in the 70's and for a different set of purposes in the 80'0 and 90's and onwards. There are many other pieces of circumstantial evidence that I won't belabor that lead me to suspect there are numerous documents in Kerry's military record that contradict much of his public statements of his service.
No doubt, I am far more skeptical of the official version of his service than Bush's. But I will say that I have no doubt that all three -- Bush, Gore and Kerry, along with countless others -- no doubt gained considerable advantage due to their station and political connections. I still maintain, however, that Bush gained advantage from his military record but rarely stressed it; Kerry based his entire campaign on it.
One last point. Military men and women have a very keen eye for fair weather friends. Bush had the great advantage of having biological and philosophical antecedants with rock solid military credentials: Ronald Reagan and Bush 41. Kerry had no such advantage, in Clinton, Gore, and Kennedy (Ted).
I'll admit to being partisan, but it would be hard not to stray with a question posed as this one is. To paraphrase "Oh Brother Where Art Thou," to ask such a loaded question without a partisan response would "whet the appetite without beddin' her back down."
I guess that's the best I can do for this one.
Question from LiberalAvenger:
What were Ronald Reagan's rock solid military credentials?
I never would have guessed this term "credentials," would have so many shades of meaning. If this debate has taught me anything, it is that people have many different senses of what it means to be credentialed.
I meant that Ronald Reagan was given great credit by the military, not that he was some big military hero. He was extremely popular with soldiers, much like Bush 43.
As to his actual military service, quoting from a CNN biography:
During World War II, Reagan's poor eyesight kept him from combat, and he was assigned to make military training films. He was discharged as a Army captain in 1945, but not, he later said, before developing a disdain for the inefficiency of the military's bureaucracy.
I think I figured out why Presidents like Bush 43 and Reagan were so popular with the troops, and why others like Clinton and Carter (and even to an extent Bush 41, believe it or not).
Military members believe strongly in the mission of and purpose for the U.S. Armed Forces. They tend to be conservative, and they share none of the reluctance to use the military to support or fulfill U.S. National Security objectives as long as those objectives are sound. They also tend towards the macho, and strong figures like Reagan or Bush, while otherwise polarizing and divisive, were and are nothing if not powerly and assertive. I need not describe some of the frequent stereotypical comments about others for you to surmise correctly what those might have sounded like.
Reagan was a staunch anti-communist. As a cold warrior in the 80's, I can vouch that the prevalent feeling in the U.S. Military was likewise anit-communist, especially those of us in the know about Soviet and Communist activities, and in tune with what was a very strong "heartland" animosity towards the communists. Ascribe its source where you may, but also consider it one of the earliest precursor to the "Red State - Blue State" divide. (Only then, the point of divide was antipathy towards the "red" menace.)
I fault Reagan for mnay of the failings foreign policy wise as his next two successors. Much was left unattended to. But there is no question that standing up (with strength) to the Soviets and pushing against their interests was rather (though not universally) popular with the military. (As I stated, I hated him at the time, but have I think a wiser awareness now.)
It may seem counterintuitive for someone not in service, but soldiers don't restrict themselves to narrow personal interest. Once you are the type of person who is willing to serve, with all that that entails, you are likely to be quite ready to place the national interest above your own. Sure, there are grumblings from some about "we have no f'ing business being here," but that's the exception, and within military culture, that kind of negativity and resistance is frowned upon.
Reagan and Bush 43 conveyed a strong sense of valuing the military and being willing to use it without fear or hesitation, and showing deep conviction that doing so was the right thing to do for America (whether or not it was or they had to follow through, placing their soldiers boots where their mouth was). This then dovetails with my observation about (macho) military perceptions of strength and strong leadership.
Not to be partisan -- I don't mean it that way -- Republicans of late have done better with image and perception in this regard than Democrats. Not that that's all it is, its fueled and supported by real issues and real decisions and stances. But I am often impressed by how much nonverbal communication goes on that all of us underestimate. Military men and women are trained to be obedient, and respond in an instant to the commands and directives of those in authority over us. I think that's why we're so attuned to some that fit that communications model, and tune out or can't hear or respect those who don't communicate strongly in that way.
We know strong leaders, and we respect strong and forceful leadership. Any amount of indecisiveness, uncertainty, or even "nuance" could get us killed. Hence all the stories, mostly apocryphal, about fragging during Viet Nam. Soldiers grouse about poor leadership and uncertain or flawed leadership more thna any other single thing, and some will translate those complaints into mental "lists" of who the first one to get it will be. Those comments go away when leadership is strong, decisive, but fair and always mindful of the cost of decisions upon soldiers.