I am annoyed by so much of the debate about Bush's and Kerry's roles during Vietnam. The other night Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame repeatedly said that the one thing no one can doubt is that George Bush was a "shirker" and Kerry wasn't. If he meant that Bush shirked according to the standards Bush himself would likely endorse, then Bernstein is right. But objectively speaking, Bernstein is wrong. To shirk is to avoid a duty or responsibility. No one had a duty or responsibility to go to Vietnam and shoot at perfect strangers who had never attacked him and to risk getting killed or maimed or just badly screwed up. Likewise, Kerry didn't "serve his country" when he went to Vietnam. At most he served a corrupt U.S. government that continuously imposed on the American people (not to mention the Vietnamese) by making them fight that immoral war.
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Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004
The notion that every American has the right to decide whether to do his duty once the President has committed troops is possibly the most witless trope of the left. Michael Moore stated this idiocy at its extreme in his interview with Bill O'Reilly when he asked O'Reilly if he would want his kid to fight for Fallujah. It is not a soldier's duty to decide where and when he wants to fight.
As a reformed leftist who once believed this nonsense, I find it painful to see it continuously bandied about. This notion, perhaps more than any other, is the reason that the majority of Americans hold the left in contempt. Duty is duty.
That being said, the entire debate about Bush's Guard service continues to discredit all those who approach it. Perhaps this is because so much BS has been written about the composition of U.S. troops in Vietnam. This debate is grounded on the old leftist assumption that blacks and minorities somehow bore the brunt of service in Vietnam. This lie has long since been disproven.
So, you are debating a lie within a lie.
And that 60s language! One wonders when academia is going to consider growing up.
Charles Johnson - 10/6/2004
"Great stuff, Roderick! I still can't understand people who believe that the worst thing that can be said about Bill Clinton is: Draft Dodger."
I have to wonder why Clinton, and Democrats generally, have basically embraced these attacks rather than standing up to them. Clinton waffled and now major swaths of the Democratic Party seem to think that having proudly blown shit up in Vietnam is some kind of <em>sine qua non</em> for being "electable." I know that looking to Democratic leadership for spine is not necessarily a strategy well-justified by its success, but really. Would it have been hard for Clinton just to say, "You're damn right I dodged the draft; I thought the war was immoral and I saw no reason why I should go along with being forced to fight and maybe to die for a war I thought was wrong. And you know what? I was right, too."
I mean, seriously. Is it <em>controversial</em> at this point that the Vietnam War was a mistake? That the draft was a bad idea?
Charles Johnson - 10/1/2004
Almost everything in Gus diZerega's reply is right on target. I can't agree with Gus when he claims that, although Bush wasn't a shirker for sidestepping the draft through a cushy ANG position, he still "was a shirker by avoiding his voluntarily contracted national guard duty". Why? Well, because the position was not voluntarily contracted. Bush entered the ANG as one way of avoiding military enslavement; it so happened that he had privileges and connections which allowed him to avoid it in a way that involved a minimal amount of disruption to his life. (Would that everyone had been so lucky!) But the position was entered under duress (since the alternative was being shipped to Vietnam as a military slave). Therefore, I can't see how he had any positive obligations to fulfill the rigamarole imposed on him by the position, if he could get away with bypassing it. (The taxpayer money spent on Bush's training is immaterial for similar reasons--since there's every reason to believe that he took the position only in order to avoid the draft while not having his life seriously uprooted by, e.g., sitting in prison or fleeing to Canada, he again was receiving these tax-funded services under duress.)
Bush is a hypocritical creep with a massive sense of entitlement, a complete lack of empathy, and no understanding of the hideous human costs of the wars that he supports. But you've got a right to be like that, in a free society, and I can't see any duties shirked or rights violated by G.W.'s conduct during the war.
Gus diZerega - 9/21/2004
Please read the following by Stephen Thomas carefully:
"The notion that every American has the right to decide whether to do his duty once the President has committed troops is possibly the most witless trope of the left. Michael Moore stated this idiocy at its extreme in his interview with Bill O'Reilly when he asked O'Reilly if he would want his kid to fight for Fallujah. It is not a soldier's duty to decide where and when he wants to fight."
Can anyone please tell me WHERE in this statement Michael Moore said, or even implied, that soldiers should be able to decide where to fight?
Bill O'Lielly was asked HIS opinion about where his kid should fight. As far as I know, rightwing libertarians used to support the right of a father to say whether his son's life was being risked for a wise or unwise goal. Has that changed?
Seems that some folks just can't get away from left bashing no matter how hard they have to stretch the argument to try and make it fit.
One additional comment about the original post. I think the final two sentences of Sheldon Richman's post are deeply wrong. Having closed down a draft board in the 60s, organized and spoken at demonstrations against the Vietnam War, and organized and spoken at demonstrations against the Iraq war, (and never regretted any of it) I really think it indecent to attack soldiers who, based on what they knew, thought they were serving their country by volunteering. Many people of the time believed what the press told them and only later did the lies emerge in ways that could be relatively easily discovered by people.
I obviously believed I served my country better by working against the war rather than fighting in it - but any decision to serve one's country/community retains the possibility of being wrong in hindsight, no matter what the decision. Belittling the decision and the person making it because it turned out to be in error assumes that error automatically negates any virtue of intention. The reality is always more complicated.
Kerry, or others, can be criticized for ignoring information they should reasonably have been aware of. They can be crititicized for refusing to admit a mistake when it was obvious they had made one. But guess what - with respect to Vietnam that would require criticizing the Swiftboat liars and damn near every Republican politician.
The discussion of shirking is also fatally flawed. Bush was a hypocrite not a shirker in not volunteering for Vietnam and using political pull to avoid the draft - because he supported the war. But he was a shirker by avoiding his voluntarily contracted national guard duty - which did not involve killing anyone, involved taking over a million dollars in public funds to get his flight training, and then not completing his end of the contract.
The real issues are how Bush has massively increased the size of government, mismanaged fopreign policy, undermined civil and political liberty, and started to create a national political machine. But it's so much more fun to attack liberals, isn't it? I criticize 'em as well - but I have a sense of proportion on the matter.
Roderick T. Long - 9/21/2004
I think the "soldier's duty" argument is inapplicable regardless of whether we have conscription or not. The human conscience is inalienable; one cannot get rid of one's duty to judge one's actions in the light of one's conscience and act accordingly, and hence one cannot freely contract this duty away either. A contract to do wrong is null and void, and therefore a military contract cannot legitimately be interpreted as requiring a soldier to do wrong. A person's duty as a soldier cannot supersede his duty as a human being. It is not only a soldier's right but his DUTY, his absolutely inescapable duty, to "decide where and when he wants to fight" in the light of his conscience.
Aeon J. Skoble - 9/21/2004
Your point "It is not a soldier's duty to decide where and when he wants to fight" really only works in the context of the all-volunteer force. In a conscript army, saying that "duty is duty" amounts to a license for tyranny. We need to distinguish between how we think about duty and following orders in a volunteer army from how we think about them in a conscript army. So you're right about Michael Moore and Iraq, but those categories don't carry over to Vietnam, because we had conscription then.
Sheldon Richman - 9/21/2004
Great stuff, Roderick! I still can't understand people who believe that the worst thing that can be said about Bill Clinton is: Draft Dodger.
Roderick T. Long - 9/20/2004
On this subject see the following excellent posts:
Max Schwing - 9/18/2004
The problem I see with it, is that Bush calls to arms and devises a roll of patriotism, he himself was not up to fullfill, but rather evaded.
So, how can you not call it avoiding serving his own ideology and how can he call to you to serve an ideal, he wouldn't support with his own life?
That's the tricky part when speaking about their duties...
Kerry has experiences which the advocate, Bush, of Total War on Terrorism hasn't...
John Arthur Shaffer - 9/18/2004
I agree in principle, but Kerry did return home and very publicly criticize the war, testified before Congress, and may have helped to hasten the U.S. exit from Vietnam. This was not easy and still makes many question is patriotism today.
At its core, that is really the issue that drives this election. Whether it is patriotic, or "serving your country", to be critical of it in a time of war. Republicans, and Democrats like Zell Miller, believe that once the bullets and bombs fly you snap in line, give up your freedom and right to dissent, and blindly support the government - no matter how poorly the war is going or whether it was premised on propaganda. Thus, we must vote for Bush because he is strong and resolute, while events on the ground go to hell. This dangerous sentiment has allowed Bush to merge the war in Iraq with the war on terror, and perpetuate the lie that they hate us because of our freedom.