Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Nothin' to See Here, Move Along

OK, I watched the “Sixty Minutes” segment where former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes talked about pulling strings to get George W. Bush his slot in the “champagne Unit” of the Texas Air National Guard. Whoop de do. Anybody who was anywhere near draft age in the late 1960s could have told you that. Nobody got into the Air National Guard without having some strings pulled somewhere. Look — there was a five year waiting list to get in. You could sign up before you got out of high school and still get bumped by some rich kid.

One new thing was a memo where Lieutenant Colonel Killian (head of the Texas Air National Guard at the time) noted that Bush had disobeyed a direct order to take his physical. Military types — what do they call disobeying a direct order? We already knew he skipped his physical; we still don't know why.

Now, I'm not claiming that Bush was wrong for wanting to stay out of Vietnam. Everybody did. I'll just say that his actions there raise some very serious doubts about his much- vaunted “character”. It looks like, after four years of perfectly honorable and boring service (In the military, boring is good, especially during a war.), he lit out for Alabama, and later Cambridge, and left the Powers that Be to clean up after him. His sworn obligation to the Guard got in the way of what he wanted to do, so he simply blew it off and let others cover his tail. Character. Right.

In the normal college crowd that I was in, there was a distinct hierarchy of respect on the subject of Vietnam:

  1. At the very top were the resistors. These are the people who put their arses on the line for their beliefs, and ended up going to jail or to Canada. This took an amount of guts far, far higher than any other option.
  2. Then there were the volunteers. Most of us thought the war was wrong, but those who didn't agree and who were willing to put their arses on the line were certainly worthy of respect.
  3. Next are the people who “played the game”. There were all sorts of medical deferments; problem was that, as each new deferment came up, the draft boards would tighten restrictions on it until it was useless.
  4. Next are the ones who “did their duty” and didn't try to stay out of the draft. Yeah, you do what other people expect of you, even if you know it's wrong. (If you really believe it's right, enlist.) This was a small group; everybody I knew was trying to stay out. Getting drafted was the penalty for losing.
  5. At the very bottom, with no respect whatever, was what we called “4F Hawks”. (The phrase “chickenhawk” meant something entirely different at that time.) These are the guys who didn't have to fight, but were happy to see others “do their duty” by marching through minefields.

The 4Fs (guys who, for one reason or another, were not eligible for the draft) were outside the system. Everybody envied them, even if the reason for their deferment was, say, missing legs. Problem was, they tended to gloat.

Generally, the guys who got into the National Guard were rated about one small step above the 4F Hawks. It was automatically assumed that they had gotten in by political pull, whether they did or not. They tended not to care.

The attitudes toward veterans varied by their attitudes. Most of them were glad to be home; we accepted them as guys who'd been through a really bad time. Some were obnoxious; they tended to get shunned. Who wants a party pooper? They usually hung out with the 4F Hawks, who tended to worship them.

There was one guy who claimed to have spit on a returning veteran. We called him “Crazy Harv”. He was a violent, radical Maoist to the extent that the other radical Maoists wanted nothing whatever to do with him. Did he really do it? On one hand, he was crazy enough to try (getting beaten to a bloody pulp didn't seem to bother him). On the other hand, he was seriously delusional.

Anyway, I wrote up some other draft- era notes a while back. They're still good, if you need a refresher on what it was like to be in college under threat of the draft.

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