We all made our choices (I was no. 322 in the last draft so....) I was 17
when I attended college and all I remember is being VERY confused about what
was my responsibility to my country, humanity and myself. I think the only
way to describe the way many of us 17, 18 and 19 years olds dealt with
Vietnam is to say we *muddled through*
it. I was so young I don't remember
death being part of the equation; I was truly confused about "duty".
The important thing is to own what we did. This is why I immediately
dismissed Clinton when he confessed he "did not inhale" (I did). This is
why I dismissed Dukakis when he went for his tank tide; and why I dismissed
GB2 when he delayed the arrival of an aircraft carrier so he dress in a
naval aviator's jump suit and be delivered via air. (If he is so empathetic
to the sacrifices of servicepeople and families, how in the Hell can he
justify holding up their reunion for even 5 minutes? Get em home!)
The raw confusion of an inexperienced youngster is one thing; the cynical
manipulation of words and images by master politicians is another.
Truth be told, I respect the actions of those who went into the service,
Canada, jail and/or protested much more than I can respect my
indecisiveness. Yes, I was only 17/18, but so were they. I have tried to
live my life far more decisively since those days.
Of COURSE the Guard was a ticket leading away from Vietnam. So were college
deferments (graduate schools (medicine, business, law, etc) experienced
their greatest expansions during Vietnam). I think every man who faced the
draft (and the fact was it was only men/boys who faced the draft) is
accepting of those who made the choice to join the Guard. We know all too
well we were being forced into THE most important choice in our lives before
we had even enough experience to know what sexual positions we preferred or
whether we liked Rheingold or Rolling Rock better.
Those of us still alive and honest with ourselves are very understanding
What most cannot abide is the attempt to make our actions in youth into
some kind of heroic choice or to rewrite history. We ALL abhor the guys who
pretend they served in the Mekong Delta when in fact their families ran the
draft board and they got a deferment for attending junior college. We abhor
the phonies who all *attended" (if not served on the committees of) the
major protest marches and college strikes.
Yet, we can accept those who are able to say, "that was the choice I made
and there ain't no taking it back; so that's it".
We equally abhor those who make their actual service out to be something
other than what it was. GB2 used the Guard like many others. It was a way
to avoid a situation those "in the know" knew was a disaster. Yes, it filled
slots left vacant by those deployed overseas. But it was not a place for
those who wanted to engage the Communists. Those guys volunteered for the
Marines and Special Forces.
Joining the Guard to avoid the draft was a rational and sane alternative to
the draft. Oh, and let us not forget, this was WELL known by the Guard and
draft boards at the time. We all remember how selective the Guard was; not
many black guys from the projects got accepted.
What is unforgivable is that Bush so vapidly committed young military (not
considered boys or girls because they made conscious decisions to join) to a
situation that, as in Vietnam, is fraught with danger, with no defined end
game and of suspect benefit to the American "Way of Life", let alone world
The irony is that he had to extensively deploy the very group (Guard) he
used to avoid active service during Vietnam. Lets face it, very few joined
the Guard in the last decade because they thought they would get to go
overseas. For many, it was additional income, benefits and a chance to
serve the local community during times of natural disaster.
The situation is now so grim that the DOD has issued a stop loss that
prevents anyone from retiring or ending service at the end of their
enlistment, Guard or active duty. There are already Courts Martials pending
of those who have refused to sign a waiver to the military regulation that
assures them they will not be deployed overseas more than 12 months every
Yet during his Guard service during Vietnam, George got to choose where he
was based, serve on political campaigns, and apparently choose when to show
up and voiding having to occupy his rating as a pilot by neglecting his
Small wonder that he wants to avoid the discussion. What is the real wonder
is that he actually dares to attempt to glorify his Guard service rather
than to say "I was young and though I knew so much more about gaming the
system then. It was stupid and immature and I apologize." But then, what
do you want form a guy who went on to be a party boy until his wife
threatened to throw him out unless he stopped drinking.
Most of us who faced those times would have to accept that simply so that we
can keep peace with our own actions of the day.
Dewey Clark http://www.historictimekeepers.com
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