August 27, 2004

Two categories of Vietnam draft avoiders.

Did you know that those who found ways to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War ought to be put in two categories? There is one category, which President Clinton belongs in, and one category, which President Bush belongs in. What are those two categories? Democrat and Republican? No, as Neil Sheehan, Pulitzer Prize-winner, writes in an op-ed in today's NYT:
One must be careful in pointing a finger at those who avoided service in Vietnam. Many, like President Clinton, had moral objections to the war. The gimmicks they used to stay out of it were tawdry, but they acted from motives of conscience. Mr. Bush - like his father's vice president, Dan Quayle, who sheltered in the Indiana National Guard, and his own vice president, Dick Cheney, who obtained five draft deferments - are in a different category. From what can be discerned, none of them opposed the Vietnam War. Had the younger Mr. Bush not stood aside from the central, transforming event of his youthful years, his performance as president might have been closer to that of the wise and capable commander-in-chief he claims to be but has not been. He might have learned a lesson from Vietnam - do not become involved in an unnecessary war.
Yes, one must be careful, because you wouldn't want to create an argument that will be used against the many, many men who did what they could to avoid service. Don't be so short-sighted in your efforts to promote Kerry! You need a more nuanced argument, an argument that will allow us to continue to sneer at Bush and Cheney and future Republican candidates and still preserve the path to power for the many Democrats who avoided service. Here's the concept: we'll divide up the Vietnam-service-avoiders (including those who served in the National Guard) into those who "acted from motives of conscience" and those who thought only of their personal safety and comfort. In this analysis, Clinton gets to be the man of conscience, because he opposed the war, and Bush, despite his service in the National Guard, is the selfish one, because we can't discern from the record whether he opposed the war.

In fact, let's even divide up the men who did serve into the same two categories: the ones who participated in the "transforming event" of their time and opposed the war and the ones who did not:
Unnoticed in the controversy over the Swift Boat group's accusations is an undercurrent that lingers from the war. The men who fought in Vietnam and survived came back as divided as the public at home. Most suffered in silence, then picked up their lives and went on. But some, like John Kerry, were so disillusioned that they felt they had to do something to stop the war. Another minority persisted in their faith that the war could be won, that America is an exception to history and can do no wrong.
(Unless you were with those who wanted an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, you believed America can do no wrong?) Sheehan goes on to say that Vietnam was an "unnecessary and unwinnable war, a tragic, terrible mistake" and that all the veterans deserve respect for their valor even though they had the "ill luck to draw a bad war." He titles his op-ed "A War Without End," suggesting that we need to get past Vietnam, but he is introducing a new litmus test for candidates: did they oppose the Vietnam war when they were young? Let's comb over the old record and see if we can discern anti-war activities, and if not, we'll say you were out of touch with your transformative time and you failed to learn the lessons needed to qualify you for leadership. At that rate the "War Without End" will never end.

2 comments:

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Joseph Cavano said...

Avoiding for moral reasons? Avoiders and dodgers did the same thing- get out of not serving! by student deferment, or national guard, or occupation, it cuts the same. Those with a high lottery # from 1969 to 1971 have a legitimate reason they were not called upon! democrat,republican, if you avoided, good war or not, I question your patriotism. If you had a Dad in WW2, as I did, who was injured, you could not "run" I stood my ground, 1A classified, from June 1970 to August 1971, and drew # 297 (call ups re to # 95).One cannot parse a 60's draft dodger or avoider, they are what thy are.