Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Now we are firmly in the age of American baby-boomer, Vietnam War-era presidential candidates. Former Sen. Bob Dole, in the 1996 election, was the last of the World War II-era fogies to view for the White House. President Bill Clinton, and the pack of contenders to succeed him, people like Vice President Al Gore and Bill Bradley among the Democrats, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain among the Republicans, were all forged in the 1960s. And see how their records of military service, or lack thereof, are used as a political resume in different ways by their supporters and their detractors!
Clinton is vilified for avoiding the military draft by attending university and pursuing further studies in Britain, despite the fact that university education was not an evasion, but a legitimate deferral sanctioned by U.S. government conscription policy at the time. Now rumors have it that Bush used his father and his father’s connections to avoid Vietnam and remain safe in the U.S. in the Texas Air National Guard. Similar rumors talk of Gore using his father and his father’s connections to avoid combat and stay safe behind a typewriter in Vietnam. Both men defend themselves by saying that they are proud of their service, such as it was. And McCain flaunts his military service record, including six years as a POW, as proof of his virtuous American pedigree.
This we know for sure: those Americans who opposed the Vietnam War, by public demonstration, by staying in school, by fleeing to Canada, by hook or by crook, were right. They were not only right, they were righteous, and I do not expect presidential candidates to explain themselves whether they are veterans or not. If next year’s presidential election comes down to a contest between a Vietnam veteran and a draft dodger, I see no grounds for rejecting the latter because of his position toward that conflict. In fact, it’s just the opposite! We can be sure that the latter was right and is a better man for it than the former, who was wrong.
This we know for sure: the idea that it is right and fitting to die for one’s country is a great lie, and those who unctuously follow their government’s lead into the abyss are most likely some kind of dim-witted scoundrels.
Published on Sunday, December 5, 1999 as “War not worth dying for.”
My point is that the Vietnam War was wrong. Way wrong. Wrong from the start, and it is not a positive recommendation on a politician’s resume that he served in it. It was public opinion expressed through anti-war protests that led Lyndon B. Johnson to announce in 1968 that he would not run for the presidency again, indicating America’s de facto capitulation. In those days American politicians still had enough respect for democratic values that they capitulated - however slowly or reluctantly - to the public will, unlike the George W. Bush government where cynicism is so deep that politicians are immune to public opinion and opposition. Indeed, in post-9/11 America conservatives are trying to paint war opposition as equivalent to treason. It seems inconceivable today for war protesters to affect any change on policy like what they did in the 1960s. Of course, many people deny that Hippy protests in fact affected America’s war policy that much anyway. But I disagree.