Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bush and Military Service

I was reminded today how people are able to convince themselves of nearly anything -- esp when it comes to politics.

Look, you can like or hate Bush... But to completely remake his service record (especially when compared to Senator Kerry's) is intellectually dishonest. The facts are there for all to see: during the height of the Vietnam war, as his deferment was running out, the (now) president used his political connections to get a coveted slot in the Texas Air Guard. A place he knew would save him the trouble of a trip to
SE Asia.

How else can you explain it when a guy walks into the guard office and is sworn in the very same day -- when there is a waiting list...

Here are some points I've brought up with folks when this topic comes up... I've clipped bits from newspaper articles as well as Colin Powell's book.

Powell:

"I particularly condemn the way our political leaders supplied the manpower for that (the Vietnam) war. The policies -- determining who would be drafted and who would be deferred, who would serve and who would escape, who would die and who would live -- were an antidemocratic disgrace. I can never forgive a leadership that said, in effect: These young men -- poorer, less educated, less privileged -- are expendable (someone described them as "economic cannon fodder"), but the rest are too good to risk. I am angry that so many sons of the powerful and well placed and many professional athletes (who were probably healthier than any of us) managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to our country."

Unlike Senator McCain, during Campaign 2000, Bush has refused to release his full military records.

Bill Maher:

The president said in his Teatime with Tim Russert interview that, regarding his time in the Guard, “And I would have gone (to
Vietnam, that is) had my unit been called up, by the way.”

How brave, seeing that during Vietnam, over 2.5 million Americans went to Vietnam, and out of that, the number of guardsmen called up was 8700. 8700 out of 2 and a half million, which is less than 0.3%.

So to say “I would have gone” when he knew he never would (on top of which, he flew an obsolete plane that never would have been called to Vietnam) – fine, but once again, not the kind of thing that, to me, shouts “honor and integrity.” Although, I guess even the president’s fans have realized by now that ‘honor and integrity’ was more of a Campaign 2000 thing. Oh well, still better than a “liberal.”

But what I think has gotten lost in this debate is that the Guard is a completely different institution today that it was in the Vietnam era, and The Master of Morphing is trying to morph the National Guard of today with the one he was in back then, the same way he morphed monogamy into integrity in the election and Bin Laden into Hussein in the War on Terror. The numbers speak for themselves: 0.3% then; today in Iraq, 22% [actually closer to 40% today, RS] of the force serving are Guard.

As Colin Powell says in his autobiography: “I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well placed managed to wrangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units”

I don’t think anyone’s wrangling spots in the Guard today. So isn’t Powell talking about the president in this quote? If George Bush, jumping over hundreds to get that slot in the Champagne Division, is not the “powerful and well placed” wrangling a spot, who is?

Wash Post:

By George Lardner Jr. and Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 28, 1999; Page A1

Two weeks before he was to graduate from Yale, George Walker Bush stepped into the offices of the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Field outside Houston and announced that he wanted to sign up for pilot training.

It was May 27, 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. Bush was 12 days away from losing his student deferment from the draft at a time when Americans were dying in combat at the rate of 350 a week. The unit Bush wanted to join offered him the chance to fulfill his military commitment at a base in Texas. It was seen as an escape route from Vietnam by many men his age, and usually had a long waiting list.

Bush had scored only 25 percent on a "pilot aptitude" test, the lowest acceptable grade. But his father was then a congressman from Houston, and the commanders of the Texas Guard clearly had an appreciation of politics.

Bush was sworn in as an airman the same day he applied. His commander, Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, was apparently so pleased to have a VIP's son in his unit that he later staged a special ceremony so he could have his picture taken administering the oath, instead of the captain who actually had sworn Bush in. Later, when Bush was commissioned a second lieutenant by another subordinate, Staudt again staged a special ceremony for the cameras, this time with Bush's father the congressman – a supporter of the Vietnam War – standing proudly in the background.

..

Staudt, the colonel who twice had himself photographed with Bush, said his status as a congressman's son "didn't cut any ice." But others say that it was not uncommon for well-connected Texans to obtain special consideration for Air Guard slots. In addition to Bush and Bentsen, many socially or politically prominent young men were admitted to the Air Guard, according to former officials; they included the son of then-Sen. John Tower and at least seven members of the Dallas Cowboys.

In 1989 he tried to describe his own thought process to a Texas interviewer. "I'm saying to myself, 'What do I want to do?' I think I don't want to be an infantry guy as a private in Vietnam. What I do decide to want to do is learn to fly."

Among the questions Bush had to answer on his application forms was whether he wanted to go overseas. Bush checked the box that said: "do not volunteer."

Bush said in an interview that he did not recall checking the box. Two weeks later, his office provided a statement from a former, state-level Air Guard personnel officer, asserting that since Bush "was applying for a specific position with the 147th Fighter Group, it would have been inappropriate for him to have volunteered for an overseas assignment and he probably was so advised by the military personnel clerk assisting him in completing the form."

But there was no chance Bush's unit would be ordered overseas. Bush says that toward the end of his training in 1970, he tried to volunteer for overseas duty, asking a commander to put his name on the list for a "Palace Alert" program, which dispatched qualified F-102 pilots in the Guard to the Europe and the Far East, occasionally to Vietnam, on three- to six-month assignments.

He was turned down on the spot. "I did [ask] – and I was told, 'You're not going,' " Bush said.

Only pilots with extensive flying time – at the outset, 1,000 hours were required – were sent overseas under the voluntary program. The Air Force, moreover, was retiring the aging F-102s and had ordered all overseas F-102 units closed down as of June 30, 1970.


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