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February 21, 2004


Jim sent the following note about asking his conservative friends what they did during the Vietnam War:

I told them recently that I'd been called up, failed my first pre-induction physical, and was scheduled for a second when the war (and draft) ended.

And I told them I would have gone, that I wouldn't condemn anyone either way, because a lot of good people agonized over whether to go or evade or declare CO.

Dead silence from them.

It's pop psych, but I really wonder if the entire generation of Vietnam-era males is defined by their response to the war. Those who went either died or mostly came back feeling that the war was a disaster; those who evaded mostly became neocon chicken hawks; and the few COs were the few who retained some sense of balance. Ditto people like me who would have gone but by chance or timing weren't called.

I mean: there are so many neocon hawks who evaded, it really do make you wonder if deep down they feel that they did the wrong thing.

There was an interesting article I saw recently to the effect that the neocon response to Vietnam is "it was a stupid unnecessary Democrat war and I did the right thing staying out of it. Of course *my* wars are different."

A great editorial in the Star Tribune today - reprinted on smirkingchimp



“Chicken hawk,” according to Steven Fowle of the New Hampshire Gazette, “is a term often applied to public persons—generally male—who (1) tend to advocate, or are fervent supporters of those who advocate, military solutions to political problems, and who have personally (2) declined to take advantage of a significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime.” With the help of the Gazette’s “Chicken Hawk Database,” together with our own research, we’ve put together a brief (and incomplete) list of prominent Southerners who fit the description:



Alexander (born 1940) never served in the military, and the campaign of his opponent in the recent election (Bob Clement) said that Alexander “arranged a series of questionable draft deferments that kept him out of harm’s way until he was just old enough to avoid being drafted.” As a law clerk, he was exempted from the draft, but the Clement campaign claimed Alexander was really a “messenger” and “played in a band while others served, fought, and died.”



The former House Majority Leader (born 1940), who briefly questioned the Bush Administration on its Iraq policy but now supports it (and has said that “I'm content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank”), received a college deferment during the Vietnam war.

This former congressman (born 1948) has occasionally defended civil liberties against the onslaughts of the Bush Administration, but shored up his hawk credentials by supporting a unilateral attack on Iraq (and demanding that the practice of witchcraft be outlawed on military bases). He managed to avoid service in Vietnam through a college deferment.



Kentuckian Gary Bauer (born 1946), sometime presidential candidate and head of the Family Research Council, avoided Vietnam by going to college and law school. Bauer was later classified 1-Y (meaning he would only be drafted in a national emergency) due to a “physical problem.”



Like former Vice President Dan Quayle, President and Texan George W. Bush (born 1946) served in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam era—a well-known dodge in many states for the sons of influential families. “They could sense I was going to be one of the great pilots of all time,” he once said of his fighter-jet prowess; but the military never made use of his talents overseas or in combat.  In 2000, an investigation by the Boston Globe revealed that, for a full year in 1972-73, Bush is unaccounted for in military records. For part of that time, he was in Alabama working on a U.S. Senate campaign, but apparently didn’t show up for mandatory drills.



The presidential brother (born 1953), just reelected governor of Florida, avoided military service by going to college (University of Texas, class of ’73).



Georgia’s new Republican senator (born 1943) avoided military service in Vietnam with four student deferments and a knee injury some have charged was faked. Chambliss won office in part by impugning the patriotism of incumbent Sen. Max Cleland (D), a Vietnam vet who lost three limbs in the war.



Cheney (born 1941) is originally from Wyoming, but headed Dallas-based Halliburton Corp. for several years. The Vice President had, in his own words, “other priorities in the sixties than military service.” Cheney relied on several student deferments and a marriage deferment to stay out of Vietnam.



At the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans, DeLay (born 1947) claimed, in the words of Tim Fleck of the Houston Press, that during the Vietnam War “so many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks like himself.” According to Molly Ivins, after DeLay left the microphone, a television reporter asked, “Who was that idiot?”



This onetime Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (born 1943) stayed out of Vietnam with a college deferment.



This retired senator (born 1942) avoided service in Vietnam through a marriage deferment.




Former Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson (born 1949) and brother Asa, former Congressman (born 1950) and current head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, both avoided service in Vietnam during their undergraduate days at Bob Jones University.



The former Senate Majority Leader (born 1941) avoided service in Vietnam while upholding segregation in his fraternity at the University of Mississippi.



Actor and conservative activist Gerald McRaney (Mississippian and “Major Dad”; born 1947) told a reporter he tried to enlist during the Vietnam War, but was turned away because he was married with a child.  “When all the people of good sense were trying to get out of the military, ‘rocket scientist’ here was trying to get in,” he said.



Bush adviser Karl Rove (born 1950) grew up in Colorado but moved to Texas in 1977 to work for Bush, Sr. He managed to stay out of Vietnam while serving as chairman of the College Republicans in the early seventies.

excellent! I printed out a dozen and stuck them on some beer cans that will be involved in a party on Friday.

Use a spray adhesive on the paper - it sticks well. You only get one shot at lining it up though.

Kerry's letter to Bush makes the point ... if Bush and his chickenhawks want to continue to slime people who actually went to Vietnam by questioning their patriotism, there should be a face to face debate. Of course it won't happen because Bush is a chickenhawk..

Here is the letter

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC  20500

Dear President Bush,

Over the last week, you and your campaign have initiated a widespread attack on my service in Vietnam, my decision to speak out to end that war, and my commitment to the defense of this nation. Just today, Saxby Chambliss-- a man elected to the US Senate on the back of one of the most despicable campaigns ever conducted against Max Cleland, a true American Hero-- was carrying this attack for you.

As you well know, Vietnam was a very difficult and painful period in our nation's history, and the struggle for our veterans continues.  So, it has been hard to believe that you would choose to re-open these wounds for your personal political gain. But, that is what you have chosen to do.

I am fighting to become the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.  Even before Democrats make their choice, you’ve launched a campaign of attacks against me.  I am determined to run a campaign on the great challenges facing this country-- from creating jobs, to solving our health care crisis to getting our nation's ballooning deficit under control. But I will not sit back and allow my patriotism to be challenged.

America deserves a better debate.  If you want to debate the Vietnam era, and the impact of our experiences on our approaches to presidential leadership, I am prepared to do so. 

This is not a debate to be distorted through your $100 million dollar campaign fund. This is a debate that should be conducted face to face.

Mr. President, I hope you will conduct a campaign worthy of this nation’s future. 


John Kerry

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