Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 8 | August 13, 2004 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   Slice of Life
   Human Rights
   Photo Feature
   Straight Talk
   Time Out
   Book Review
   Dhaka Diary
   New Flicks

   SWM Home


A Question

Zafar Sobhan

There has been much made of the militaristic nature of John Kerry's acceptance speech on the last night of the Democratic convention, with pundits fretting as to whether he overdid the Vietnam veteran references, or pondering with furrowed brow, as though the subject had never been addressed before, whether being a military veteran makes someone a better or worse commander-in-chief.

In the New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan wearily pointed out that neither of the US' two most celebrated war-time commanders-in-chief, FDR and Lincoln, ever served in the military, and that some of the least celebrated had.

Conservative pundits have fallen over themselves to make a similar point, although were the military records of the two candidates reversed, one cannot help but suspect that the same pundits would be using the fact as further evidence of Kerry's unfitness for the presidency and of President Bush's strength of character.

But Kerry's service record does bring to my mind a question that I would like to ask President Bush, which, to the best of my knowledge, he has never answered. I do not even know if anyone has ever put the question to him in public, but I am certain that I have never heard or read a response.

The question is: Mr. President, why didn't you volunteer to fight in Vietnam?

This is a question that Vice-President Dick Cheney has answered frankly: he had other priorities.

It is even a question that President Clinton has answered: he thought that the war was wrong.

Conservatives (and not just conservatives) excoriated President Clinton for not fighting in Vietnam. But he thought that the war was wrong. There isn't too much wrong with not fighting a war you oppose.

Most Americans seem to have made up their minds that the decision taken by one-time Vice-President and 2000 Presidential candidate Al Gore was the more noble path for one opposing the war. Gore opposed the war, but went anyway, figuring that even if he opposed the war, he had a duty to serve his country, and that it wouldn't be fair for him to avoid service, resulting in some other less fortunate young man being sent in his place.

But whether Clinton or Gore made the right decision for one who opposed the war is not the point.

The point is that if you did support the war, then surely you had a moral obligation to fight it.

What could be more ignoble than to support a war as long as you did not personally have to risk your neck?

How can those who claim that they supported the war, but chose not to serve, square their support with the fact that they avoided service?

Much ink has been spilled fulminating over the "peaceniks" and the "draft-dodgers" who opposed the war and avoided service -- but precious little has ever been said about those who ostensibly supported the war but found ways to avoid service.

Surely it is worse to have supported the war and not fought, than to have not supported the war and not fought.

Strangely, this realisation has never seemed to be part of the post Vietnam-era discourse. Could it be that the discourse -- as so many in American political life -- has been dominated by the right, and that they have good reason to want not to address this troubling issue?

Which is what brings me to my question for President Bush.

Let us leave aside, for the moment, that the unit of the Air National Guard that President Bush joined was, in the words of columnist Molly Ivins, "an underground railroad" to keep the sons of influential Texans out of Vietnam, or that Bush appeared to have received preferential treatment to be admitted, or that there is no evidence that he ever even completed his national guard service.

The question still remains.

Mr. President, why didn't you volunteer to fight in Vietnam?

Zafar Sobhan is an Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2004