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George W. Bush's Military "Record": Not That of a Patriot
As a native Texan who joined the military in 1968 upon graduation from college, and as the wife of a Vietnam vet who did the same, I am very well aware of how young men reacted to the Vietnam War, and what they chose to do in response to the possibility of being drafted to serve in a combat zone.
George W. Bush claimed at the time, and has claimed since, that he supported the Vietnam War. Yet he did not choose to join any of the regular services and ask to serve in 'Nam. He chose to get his father, a Texas Congressman, to ask for a political favor which would get him into the Texas Air National Guard--ahead of the waiting list--and that political favor was granted.
The rules governing the use of National Guard personnel in wartime were different then. The regular military could not access National Guard units without the permission of the governors of the individual states, unless the United States was in imminent danger. Some governors chose to let "their" National Guard units be used: Iowa and Delaware, to give only two examples, sent Air National Guard units to the Vietnam conflict. Others did not. One of those who did not was the then-governor of Texas, John Connolly. In states where the National Guard was not released by the governor, it served as a safe, legal, hidey-hole for men who did not want to risk being sent to Vietnam. This created such a problem for the military (who were funding the National Guard) and such a scandal (as it required an increased draft intake to make up for those sequestered in National Guard units) that the rules were changed post-Vietnam. Now all National Guard units are available for service at the Pentagon's request: state governors have no right of refusal. Since that reorganization, the Texas Air National Guard has been tapped for dangerous duty, and personnel presently in the Guard are serving honorably.
George Bush, like every other young draft-age man in Texas in that period, knew that John Connolly had not and would not allow the Texas Air National Guard to be tapped for combat duty. Everyone knew it was a safe haven from the draft: that's why the waiting list was so long, and that's why investigation after the Vietnam War revealed who had been given special treatment to get in. Those lucky few who were able to get into the Guard were safe from the draft and the possibility of combat service. They were able to play at being patriots while hiding behind the skirts of a politically motivated governor. All they had to do, after a not-very-rigorous training period (certainly not as rigorous as what anyone in the regular services went through) was attend the monthly meetings.
If George Bush had really been willing to serve his country in time of danger, many other avenues of service were wide open in the Sixties. Bush could have attended a military academy instead of Yale University, like my cousin Jim, who served two tours in 'Nam. He could have joined the R.O.T.C. in college, like my husband. Even after graduation, he could have easily joined one of the regular services. Recruiters were happy to take men who wanted to serve. All it would have taken was a walk into a recruiting office. Al Gore joined up. John Kerry joined up. My cousin Jim and my husband joined up. All of those men (and many others, including draftees) served in Vietnam. It wasn't hard to get to Vietnam in 1968. Any man could do it. And not just men. Women (like me) joined the regular services, serving at home and abroad.
So why didn't he? Why didn't this proponent of patriotism and responsibility and accountability and so on just walk into a recruiting office and say "Send me to 'Nam--I'm willing?" What kind of patriotism--what kind of courage--wants the uniform but not the risk? If even women were willing to serve in the military and risk being sent to Vietnam, what kind of man would choose to pretend he was serving, while not actually serving?
I don't know why. I cannot think of any valid, honest, honorable reason why someone would claim to support the war, and then by his own actions ensure that he himself was not at risk--and by those actions put others at risk.
George W. Bush claims that questioning the validity of his service in the Texas Air National Guard insults the men and women who have served there and been in combat. This is a disgusting perversion of the truth. It is he and other draft dodgers, with the connivance of Texas government (including the governor who wouldn't release the unit to the military and the individuals who jumped Bush over the waiting list to get him in) who sullied the honor of the National Guard here in Texas, and in other states where a politically-motivated governor allowed this injustice to occur. It is he and the others like him who insult and dishonor those who served honorably before and after this shameful period, those who actually put their lives on the line. Because of him and men like him, others were drafted into the service and sent into combat in their place.
Contents of these pages ©1996-2012 Elizabeth Moon
This essay ©2004 Elizabeth Moon