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Did Serve, Didn't Serve, Who Cares?

As if Vietnam vets have better judgment.

by James Leroy Wilson
February 12, 2004

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Did Serve, Didn't Serve, Who Cares?_James Leroy Wilson-As If Vietnam Vets Have Better Judgment For a scandal, maybe this is “too little, too late.” That is, George W. Bush’s alleged dodging of Vietnam duty not only by pulling strings to get into the Texas Air National Guard instead, but then not even showing up when he had to.

By all appearances, this might seem worse than Dan Quayle’s duty in the National Guard while he was Vietnam-age. And it might be as bad as Bill Clinton’s cagey avoidance of any duty whatsoever.

But “bad” is a relative word. Also, it’s contextual.

The context is the role of the Vietnam War in American political life. The best that can be said about it is that is was waged for just reasons but badly. The worst that can be said is that it was unjust in its intention, that it was based on lies, and that an improper authority - the President instead of Congress - waged it.

Thus, the fight was measured in “body counts” of Viet Cong and the war was taken to the civilians of Vietnam, and America, though “winning” most military engagements, lost the war.

So the war ended badly, and many people beforehand saw that it was nothing but a quagmire. If that is the case, why would anyone want to fight it? Who wouldn’t use whatever means to avoid it? Once a war becomes unwin-able, it has become unjust if its wasn’t already.

So how does service, or non-service, in an unjust war serve a politician? I don’t think it matters at all, really. The question, between likely Democratic Presidential nominee and George W. Bush is, what lessons have you learned, and what do you believe?

The President’s minimal standard of competence is protecting our security, of protecting us from violent attacks by foreigners. And usually the best way to do that is, obviously, to keep the nation at peace. Maybe war is necessary, if not fighting will lead us to be killed or conquered by an invasive force. But - and this is contrary to most of America’s exaltation of wartime Presidents - the best Presidents keep us out of unnecessary wars.

Does service in Vietnam qualify or disqualify one from the Presidency? I don’t think it matters. Service in a war, even heroic service, does not tend to enlarge or enlighten one’s political philosophy on war. It is true that one who has put his guts on the front line may “know what it’s like.” But maybe their beliefs were themselves flawed. Maybe it is exactly their unquestioning loyalty to the American government and “Way of Life,” and their perseverance in maintaining that faith, which may be their biggest drawback: “Because I had the courage as a young man to die for my country, I am qualified to decide when to call upon our young men and women to make the same sacrifice.” This doesn’t wash, for two reasons.

The first is, The President does not have the Constitutional authority to start wars. Only Congress is authorized to declare war. A President may ask for such a Declaration, but then must provide clear and convincing evidence to the Congress that the threat facing the United States is very real, very clear, and very present. Experience, or lack thereof, in previous wartime service shouldn’t make a difference. The President doesn’t need to be any more qualified for making this judgment by having served in combat, than any member of Congress who might vote for the declaration. There may be some war heroes in Congress, of course. There might also be those who by some disability or accident of having spent young adulthood in a peaceful time, never served. Should only those who have served in military combat get to decide when we go to war?

The second is, The President’s physical courage as a young warrior doesn’t mean he has moral authority, sound judgment, or intellectual and political courage. George W. Bush, who avoided Vietnam and apparently much of his Guard duty, has demonstrated to me that he has none of these traits. Then again, neither does John Kerry, who apparently served valiantly in Vietnam.

This is kind of like the old drug question asked of Presidential candidates: have you ever smoked marijuana (or experimented with some other drug). Since self-righteous thuggery which fuels our War on Drugs is apparently a pre-requisite for a Presidential nominee, some answer honestly and some evade the question. It doesn’t matter to anyone, however. Al Gore got the majority of the popular vote in 2000 despite admitting to having smoked marijuana as a young man. It’s not important what he did then, only that he will now continue the War on Drugs.

The important thing is that the War on Drugs, the most brazenly unconstitutional federal program of them all, continues unabated. Yes, ideally it might be preferable if someone who never used illegal drugs was actually in charge of the National Police State waging war on those drugs. But abstinence, though helpful, isn’t a requirement. Likewise, having served in combat in an unconstitutional war might be helpful for one who wants to become Commander-in-Chief, but it shouldn’t be a requirement.

John Kerry’s war experience obviously hasn’t opened his eyes to the folly and brutality of war. He intentionally and deliberately violated the Constitution when he “authorized” as a member of the Senate, to grant President Bush the power to start a war on Iraq whenever Bush saw fit. This colossal abdication of responsibility can’t be whitewashed by saying that Kerry had false information, or by citing over half a century of bad precedent in the Presidential usurpation of the war powers. Congress declares war.

The reason Kerry helped give Bush this power to start wars, is that Kerry wants this power for himself. It is an unjust power, an unconstitutional power, and since America has, for the first time in world history, actually won the real-world equivalent of the board game Risk, the power Kerry seeks - the power Bush now possesses - is a power no man or woman should have.

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