Jewish World Review August 4, 2000/ 3 Menachem-Av, 5760
A sharp look back at
Ah, the patriotism that ignoreth all recollection.
To follow newspapers, talking heads and chat rooms,
you'd think America's streets in the 1960s and 1970s
were teeming with renegade Mel Gibsons edging to be
on the front lines, instead of rioters poking flowers in
helmeted cops' guns and dweeby peaceniks clamoring
for grad school admissions and draft deferments.
Dick Cheney went to law school so he's a coward, they
say. George W. Bush did rich-kid's guard duty so he's
not worthy, they say. "No veteran worth his salt would
vote the Bush-Cheney ticket," someone wrote me.
Oh ye of little memory, let's get something straight:
Everybody was trying to avoid the draft in those days.
We of a certain age remember gathering around
television sets with stoned boys waiting for their lottery
numbers to scroll up the screen.
That's how it happened. You watched the tube -- Big
Brother's Magic 8-ball -- and prayed your number
didn't bubble to the top. Most of those who ended up
dodging random bullets hip-deep in rice paddies were
either too young, ignorant, idealistic, jail-bound or
aimless to do otherwise.
But don't take my word for it. Meet a Marine Corps
Vietnam vet who is both worth his salt and unoffended
by those who escaped the nightmare. Meet my brother,
Jack, whose gentle dialogue is to diplomacy
approximately what Pol Pot was to democracy. You've
"Most of the guys in Vietnam were the poor bastards
who were either going to prison -- the judges gave them
a choice: go to jail or enlist in the military -- or people
who had no other place to go."
I reminded Jack that he dropped out of high school to
"All of us wanted to be John Wayne. Vietnam was all
over the news. Seeing tanks, planes, bombs, guns. We
were little boys. It looked like fun. Not until we got over
there did we realize we could get killed by this
[expletive]. Any veteran who reads his letters home
realizes what a little boy he was. I never heard a guy get
hit who didn't yell, `Mama!'
"When I stepped off a C-141 in Da Nang, I took a look
around and said to myself, `John Wayne is nowhere to
be found.' It was nasty, ugly, dirty."
What about Bush and Cheney and the others who
"avoided the draft?" Do you resent them?
"If you cut out all the draft dodgers from the upper
echelon of government, we wouldn't have anybody to
vote for. In some way, I think the guys who had enough
sense to know how bad it was were smarter than the
rest of us. I kind of feel foolish. I didn't know any better.
"Hell, all of us in Vietnam wanted out too, but we
couldn't get back." He laughed. "Even there we did our
best to avoid military service. Half of Vietnam was
stoned, and the rest would have been but they were on
What about Gore? He went to 'Nam.
"He went as a journalist" he said without a hint of irony.
"He was sitting in a Quonset hut with his buddies while
the rest of us were dodging bullets. He's still doing that.
The last time he took a stand was to pull up his shorts."
So, you don't hold it against Cheney or Bush that they
didn't serve active duty?
"If the decisions we make when we're in our late teens
and early 20s were the foundation for the balance of our
lives, we'd all be hiding in the backwoods of North
Carolina by the time we were 30.
"The ironic part is anybody [like Cheney] who can
survive three heart attacks and still wants to be in public
service is no coward."
Like I said,
JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.
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