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.
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.
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.
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.
is: Mr. President, why didn't you volunteer to fight in Vietnam?
a question that Vice-President Dick Cheney has answered frankly:
he had other priorities.
even a question that President Clinton has answered: he thought
that the war was wrong.
(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
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.
Clinton or Gore made the right decision for one who opposed
the war is not the point.
is that if you did support the war, then surely you had a
moral obligation to fight it.
be more ignoble than to support a war as long as you did not
personally have to risk your neck?
those who claim that they supported the war, but chose not
to serve, square their support with the fact that they avoided
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.
it is worse to have supported the war and not fought, than
to have not supported the war and not fought.
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
is what brings me to my question for President Bush.
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.
why didn't you volunteer to fight in Vietnam?
Sobhan is an Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004