August 24, 2004

Flawed Premise

Much of John Kerry's argument that he should be president seems to rest on the fact that he served in Vietnam for four months, was wounded three times, displayed courage and leadership under fire, and that, somehow, all of this establishes his bona fides to be the man to lead America for the next four (eight?) years. Even if we dismiss everything the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are saying, grant that John Kerry was a war hero for his four months of service in Vietnam, that he actually did run clandestine missions into Cambodia, that he rescued Jim Rassman from the Mekong under fire, that he earned all his purple hearts and his bronze star, and that he has some consistent, coherent, finely nuanced explanation for his self-incriminating congressional testimony and other anti-American actions after returning from Vietnam -- how does this qualify him to be president?

In 1972 America rejected an authentic WW II hero, George McGovern, and instead elected a man for president who had no military experience, Richard Nixon. The elections of Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and George H.W. Bush in 1988, had next to nothing to do with their respective military histories. In fact, I don't recall it coming up at all except in passing or in ridicule in the case of Ronald Reagan. In 1992 America rejected a true WW II hero, George H. W. Bush, for a documented Vietnam era draft dodger, Bill Clinton. America also rejected another man with impeccable military credentials, H. Ross Perot, in 1992 as well. When presented with an opportunity to rectify this error, America rejected another WW II hero with serious war wounds, Bob Dole, as well as H. Ross Perot again in favor of the same draft dodger, Bill Clinton. In 2000, the Republicans choose a National Guardsman, George W. Bush, over a true hero who endured years of torture in Vietnam, John McCain. Also in 2000, America elected this same George W. Bush over a man who had served in Vietnam, Al Gore.

If military service and heroism is the standard by which we are going to elect our presidents, then why aren't Colonel David H. Hackworth (most decorated man in Vietnam), General Norman Schwarzkopf (highly decorated Vietnam veteran and leader of the Gulf War), or General Tommy Franks (leader of the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, who was also wounded three times in Vietnam) at, or near, the top of the list of presidential contenders? Why haven't any of the 3400 men and women who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation's highest award for service, ever been elected to be president, or even nominated by the major parties? Interestingly enough, the Democrats had a chance to elect a senior military leader this year in the person of General Wesley Clark (who was shot four times and grievously wounded in Vietnam), and they demurred.

I can only conclude from all this that military service, heroism in the armed forces, and even life-long injuries and torture suffered on behalf of our nation, is of little or no importance when listing the criteria for electing a president. Or, perhaps, America's history with Vietnam is so tainted that no one gets any credit, or blame, for their actions in it, though that hardly explains the rejection of so many WW II veterans. Or maybe both of these reasons are applicable, though in different, convoluted ways. From the examples above, this cuts across party lines, so it is not a Republican vice Democrat thing.

So John Kerry's service in Vietnam is largely irrelevant to our decision this November, whether because military service is itself of little value in determining who should be president, or because any service in Vietnam should be excluded regardless. Either way, the rationale for making John Kerry's brief Vietnam service the centerpiece of his campaign seems to be an increasingly poor decision. Military service remains good and honorable and it should be respected, but it is probably not in the top ten qualifications for becoming president.

One other observation, as I thought through this it occured to me yet again that Korea really is the forgotten war.

Posted by Charles Austin at August 24, 2004 11:39 AM

From Kerry's perspective, it helps keep the attention away from his 30+ year record *since* Vietnam, plus he gets to play the "how-dare-you-criticize-a-decorated-vet" card, which he has done successfully in the past.

Posted by: Jon at 11:48 AM