Murtha: I Wouldn’t Join the Military Now

Congressman John Murtha, a Korea and Vietnam veteran whose call last month for a quick pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq, told “Nighline” last night that he would not join the military today:

Rep. John Murtha, a key Democratic voice who favors pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, said in remarks airing on Monday that he would not join the U.S. military today. A decorated Vietnam combat veteran who retired as a colonel after 37 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Murtha told ABC News’ “Nightline” program that Iraq “absolutely” was a wrong war for President George W. Bush to have launched.

“Would you join (the military) today?,” he was asked in an interview taped on Friday. “No,” replied Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees defense spending and one of his party’s leading spokesmen on military issues.

“And I think you’re saying the average guy out there who’s considering recruitment is justified in saying ‘I don’t want to serve’,” the interviewer continued. “Exactly right,” said Murtha, who drew White House ire in November after becoming the first ranking Democrat to push for a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as it could be done safely.

The irony is that Murtha says he “left Washington and Jefferson College in 1952 to join the Marines out of a growing sense of obligation to his country during the Korean War” and later “volunteered for Vietnam in 1966-67.” Given the advantage of hindsight, one would be hard pressed to argue that either of his wars were more worth fighting than the current one.

All were entered partly as a component of larger ongoing wars, against Communism and Islamist terrorism, respectively. Korea claimed 33,651 American dead, many of whom were draftees, in just over three years of fighting. Vietnam killed 58,168 Americans, most of whom were draftees, in about three years of concentrated fighting and nearly fifteen total years of involvement. Both had negligible effect on the war against Communism. The Iraq War has claimed, thus far, 2178 American dead, all of whom were volunteers, in just under three years of fighting. Its impact on the war on terrorism is certainly debatable but it has killed untold hundreds of terrorists.

Were Presidents Truman and Johnson “absolutely” wrong in sending Murtha off to their wars?

FILED UNDER: Congress, Iraq War, Military Affairs, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    Is Murtha planning on seeking re-election this year?

  2. Bill says:


    I have to disagree with something you said- “Both had negligible effect on the war against Communism.”

    Maybe so in the big picture. But keeping forty million Koreans safe from famine and a ruthless despot in Pyongyang is a victory in my book.



  3. Anderson says:

    Were Presidents Truman and Johnson “absolutely” wrong in sending Murtha off to their wars?

    Johnson, yes. I think Korea’s a different case: surprise attack, Cold War pretty darn cold, and the UN’s first big test. The result may not’ve been worth it, but it could reasonably seem in 1950 that fighting was necessary.

    Whereas after the French debacle in Indochina, there was no sane reason to get involved, only a loathsomely hypertrophied notion of “prestige.”

  4. James Joyner says:

    Bill: Arguably, yes. A pretty steep price, though.

    Anderson: Sure. Of course, the same thing could be argued about Iraq vis-a-vis 9/11.

  5. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Anderson, what you are saying is that it is ok to save Koreans from communism, but the South Viet Namese were not worth it. What you actually have in both cases is a war fought, not to win, but to stalemate. In the first case it worked. In the second, the communist influence in this country (those on the left, like John Kerry who stated on the floor of the Senate, that we cannot fight communism all over the world) sapped this nations willingness to standup to other political ideas with which we violently disagree. Those forces are still at work today. John Murhta has become one of them. He probably sits right next to Teddy drinking Black Jack.

  6. ICallMasICM says:

    Did Murtha get his Christmas basket from Karl Rove? Will he do a duet with Cindy ‘This country isn’t worth dying for’ Sheehan?

  7. I would say that Vietnam was a war that proved the Domino Theory incorrect. It took 50 thousand dead Americans to prove that Southeast Asia would not fall to communism when we pulled out. The same lesson holds regarding Iraq and the new Domino Theory espoused by George Bush. My website has the complete story about this president who may mean well but who must be listening to voices who tell him to lie continually to the American people.

  8. Gary,

    Your proof that Bush is wrong ignores Lebanon. The people there clearly felt emboldened — and Syria reticent — in the wake of the Iraq war. Syria wasn’t about to send the troops in after the assassination and our presence contributed to that.

  9. Demosophist says:

    Well, he’s obviously not thinking very clearly. I mean for God’s sake even Al Franken recognizes we can’t just pull out of Iraq. The argument that we pull back to a redoubt within the greater Middle East actually has a lot of merit, as long as it’s done at the right time. But the issue there is the legitimacy of the new Iraqi regime, not whether the war is “winnable,” or even the cost of winning. It is simply a matter of a new institution, without the benefit of a lot of charismatic or traditional legitimacy, demonstrating competence against a formidable enemy. Without that demonstration they’ll never be regarded with much respect, even by their own countrymen.

    But because of the stakes we also have to stay long enough to have some reasonable certainty that they can stand against the terrorists. That’s all a judgment call, but the judgment is based on a different metric than the one Murth and his ilk are proposing.

  10. LJD says:

    The military doesn’t want him. He’s old!

  11. Jim says:

    More warmongers without a clue. Calling a Marine of two wars various names. I’ve heard it all before from better people. The fact is most these chicken hawks avoided all wars.Recent census data show over 80% of American males lie on the census as to involvement in a war zone. Go play your video games kiddies. Please keep your mouth shut regarding men that have actually “earned ” the right to have an opinion.