Kerry Criticizes Cheney for Avoiding Vietnam War
Democrat John Kerry hit back at Dick Cheney (news – web sites) on Thursday by raising the Republican’s failure to serve in the Vietnam War and asking voters to weigh his two tours of duty against the vice president’s five deferments.
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, bristled at Cheney’s attack on his patriotism during the Republican National Convention in New York and his ability to serve as U.S. commander-in-chief. [Nice objective reporting. Cheney did no such thing. -ed.] “Here’s my answer,” the Massachusetts senator said in excerpts of remarks he will make at a midnight rally in Springfield, Ohio, shortly after President Bush delivers his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. “I’m not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq,” he said.
Neither Bush, who served in the Texas Air national Guard, nor Cheney went to Vietnam. The vice president obtained five deferments and has since said he had “other priorities” at the time. Kerry volunteered for two tours of duty and won three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star while serving on a gunboat in the Mekong Delta. Kerry’s political campaign has heavily emphasized his Vietnam record, but his critics say he served only four months in the country. They say he hardly discusses his record during 20 years in the U.S. Senate.
First, the questions about Kerry’s commitment have to do with his votes in the Senate the past 20 years, not his actions as a young man in Vietnam 35 years ago. Those questions are coming from those who served and those who didn’t.
Second, Kerry came back from Vietnam and accused those who participated of war crimes and continually called it an immoral war. Why should Bush and Cheney have volunteered to fight in such an enterprise?
Third, Kerry voted to give President Bush authority to wage the Iraq War. To this day, he tries to have it both ways, not even being willing to say that he’d not have voted to go to war even knowing what we know now. His own speeches leading up to the war mirrored those of Bush and Cheney–WMDs and all the rest.
Finally, the three men are not the same age. Their birthdays:
While U.S. involvement in Vietnam lasted quite some time, the critical period was from the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution on August 7, 1964 through the Tet Offensive on January 30-31, 1968. Before that period, there was no reason that anyone would have been particularly motivated to join and after that public support for the war sharply declined. Cheney is almost three years older than Kerry. He graduated college before that period and was married with a family, thus accounting for his “other priorities.” John Kerry was a single man just out of college in 1966, at a time when the Vietnam War was at the height of its popularity. George W. Bush graduated Yale two years later, months after Tet.
A recent CBS News story, “Bush v Kerry: Yale Class War,” puts some perspective on this:
President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry graduated from Yale University in the 1960s, a time of upheaval at Yale and campuses across the country. Both shied away from the radicalism of the day but joined the same secret society and followed similar pursuits, their paths diverging after graduation.
When Kerry graduated in 1966 with a degree in political science, opposition to the Vietnam War was building. Yale still required students to wear jackets and ties at dinner, and no female undergraduates were admitted.
By the time Bush earned a degree in history in 1968, Yale was simmering with activism against the war and in favor of labor unions and other causes. Dinner jackets were gone, and female undergraduates arrived the following year.
This isn’t to say that, were they the same age, Bush and Cheney would necessarily have done what Kerry did. Cheney was (and is) a bookworm while Bush and Kerry were (and are) athletes and risk takers. Kerry was by all accounts, too, much more serious and focused in his college years than Bush. Kerry went to Vietnam for a variety of reasons, I gather, ranging from patriotism to adventure to politics. He deserves and has gotten kudos for having taken that risk. But his circumstances were clearly different from that of his opponents.