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Vietnam War, What Is It Good For?

As a Vietnam veteran, I’m not too upset by Richard Blumenthal’s statements about being one, too. First, I’m more upset that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney were draft dodgers, just like Blumemthal was. Blumenthal’s and Bush’s career were similar, except that Bush apparently did almost nothing for the Air Force reserve or National Guard unit that he was in, while Blumenthall at least helped with Toys for Tots.

But it does bring back some unpleasant memories. My mother was a Sunday School teacher. As I was preparing to go into the Army and later off to Vietnam, one of my fellow Sunday School classmates asked her to help his application for conscientious objector status. I’m reminded of this by another article in the New York Times quoting former Congressman Chris Shays, with whom I went to college. Shays says that he avoided Vietnam service as a conscientious objector. Also, I remember flying home to Alabama from Ft. Leonard Wood with Charlie Graddick, a former high school classmate who later became Attorney General of Alabama, as Blumenthal did in Connecticut. Graddick was our high school quarterback and played in a local band. He was a much more logical candidate to fight in Vietnam than I, a skinny bookworm, was. On that plane, we had both finished one year of law school, as Blumenthal had, when the draft deferment for grad school got much tougher. So, we all got called up, but of the three I was the only one who actually went. Like Blumenthal, Graddick got into some reserve or National Guard unit. We were both returning after basic training, but his active duty service was over, while mine was just starting.
It’s not all bad. I had basically run out of money to stay in law school. After Vietnam, I had enough saved, together with the little I got from the VA and odd jobs, to finish the last two years and get my law degree.
To me the real problem is that most of the elites in the Vietnam generation avoided service, and now many of them, like Blumenthal, have mixed feelings about it. It’s certainly arguable that the Vietnam war was immoral and that they were right to avoid fighting it. But it’s not clear that it was any more immoral than the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, which today receive a lot of lip-service praise from people who never served. You can argue that there are just wars, like World War II, but even there, what about the firebombing of Dresden or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? War is hell; it’s also the ultimate sport that makes cage fighting look like dodge ball, or the ultimate mental challenge — chess with living pieces that don’t always do what the rules say they should do. Because of that, some veterans come back stronger than before, others come back broken for the rest of their lives, and others don’t come back at all.
Because American elites refused to fight in Vietnam, a disproportionate amount of the fighting was borne by poor, black soldiers, who didn’t have the benefit of educational deferments and political connections to get into reserve units. Today, because American elites still won’t fight, and the US has declared war on Muslims, the bulk of the fighting is borne by poor, white rednecks. There is no draft and many blacks have too much sympathy for Muslims to wage some holy war against them for George Bush and the Republican Party, now carried on by Obama and the Democrats. I think Obama is doing the right thing not to cut and run in Afghanistan, although he’s a black man whose father was a Muslim. We may not be able to win in Afghanistan, but we can certainly lose, and Obama is trying not to lose.
Unfortunately, the Blumenthal saga illustrates another possible divide in the war fighting people of the US. In general, Jews don’t fight for America, although they will fight for Israel. Blumenthal is Jewish. You would think that the US offering homes to so many Holocaust victims would make Jews want to fight for the US, but they don’t seem to. I don’t remember meeting one Jew in my two years in the Army. I don’t see very many stars of David in among the graves of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. My poster boy is Rahm Emanuel, who served in the Israeli army (although not in uniform), rather than in the American army. I’ve tried off and on to find statistical data on this, but it’s hard to find because of privacy protections. I think there were a relatively high percentage of Jews who fought in World War II, because the draft was so pervasive. But I’m guessing you wouldn’t find nearly as high a percentage in Korea, just a few years later.

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