Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Generational Seismic Shift?

Dean Barnett writes a moving account of some truly amazing young men and women who have answered the call to service for their country. As Barnett notes, many of these young people have taken what he calls "six-figure pay cuts" in order to so serve. These guys are not victims--as the leading lights of the Democratic party would have you believe--but rather heroes who understand somewhere deep inside them (in ways that are apparently better than we have any right to expect given the lack of sufficient public support and political leadership) that this war is a war for the future of civilization and that it is going to be the struggle of a generation rather than of an election cycle. Good for them . . . great for us!

As my kids and I were flying out of Columbus late Friday evening, we grabbed a bite to eat before boarding our plane and we saw a lone soldier, dressed in his fatigues and finishing his meal. He smiled at us (perhaps because my son was wearing camo gear) and so we approached him and thanked him for his service. He looked surprised but also quite happy to hear it. He said he was only doing what he thought was right and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I loved that and my kids and I had a nice talk about what he meant. Still, I wish he hadn’t look so surprised.

Discussions - 19 Comments

"Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military. Most calculated how they could avoid military service, and their attitude rippled through the rest of the century. In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, military service didn't occur to most young people as an option, let alone a duty."

Why, it sounds like Barnett is describing, uh, George W. Bush. Or Dick Cheney. Or Paul Wolfowitz. Or Scooter Libby. Or William Kristol. Or, uh, just about anyone else who's ever written for or read The Weekly Standard...

I admire the guys who do this, who enlist to fight because they think they can make a difference. Still, there is a reason why so many others do not; and I think it is that we no longer trust our leaders.

"I had other priorities in the '60s than military service."

- Richard Bruce Cheney, on his FIVE draft deferrals

Count von Count could use Cheney's draft deferments to help kids learn how to count on on Sesame Street.

"It is surely a measure of how far we've come as a society from the dark days of the 1960s that things like military service and duty and sacrifice are now celebrated."

Yeah, how far we've come is that those guys with "other priorities than military service" are now in the Presidency and Vice Presidency, Dean. In the 1960s at least our leaders still had more integrity than that, even if those lousy kids like Dick and George (and Paul and Scooter and Kristol and Feith and...)didn't.

So let's hear it one last time time: FIVE draft deferrals. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Geore W Bush did not avoid military service. I know moonbats react to facts like matter being mixed with antimatter, but that's just the way it is.

Geore W Bush did not avoid military service

Well I'll give you this - Dick Cheney sets the bar pretty damn high for "avoiding military service". Few Americans, not even George W Bush could match his achievements in that area. Barnett was attacking lack of volunteerism as well as draft dodgers. There is no evidence that Bush felt the "call of service" any more than Cheney or any other neo-con; some were just more brazen about avoding it than others, depending on how close they came to being forced to serve.

Why, it sounds like Barnett is describing, uh, George W. Bush. Or Dick Cheney. Or Paul Wolfowitz. Or Scooter Libby. Or William Kristol. Or, uh, just about anyone else who's ever written for or read The Weekly Standard...

As noted, G.W. Bush did in fact serve in the military; Richard Cheney had dependent children for all but the first 16 months of the war; William Kristol had a high lottery number; and Lewis Libby was a politically active liberal until the late 1970s. (About the salients of Mr. Wolfowitz' biography I am ignorant)


The only period of American history where men with dependent children were expected to serve in the military extended from the fall of 1943 through the fall of 1945, when prevailed a degree of national mobilization far more intense and profound than that between March 1965 and January 1973. From 1940-43 and 1945-73, fathers were dispensed as a matter of policy; during 1917 and 1918, according to the discretion of local draft boards; from 1863-65, for the payment of a fee and the recruitment of a substitute.

See ">">"> here for a discussion of the draft lottery pertaining to men born in 1952. You could argue William Kristol should have enlisted, but keep in mind Henry Kissinger's statement of the Nixon Administration's goals for its Indochina policy: "Getting out as a matter of policy rather than as a matter of defeat." It is a reasonable wager that executing a rearguard action for dry raisons d'etat is not something that inspires people from a non-military family background to join.

The prudence or imprudence, justice or injustice of anything for which Mr. Libby has worked over the last twenty-five years is not a function of his personal history. If he later came to the conclusion than anything he did or said in 1970 was the wrong thing to say or do, he still cannot undo his previous acts, statements, and omissions


As for "anyone else who has ever written for or read the Weekly Standard", that's quite a feat of research getting the biographical specs and selective service files on all of their contributors over the last twelve years, not to mention tens of thousands of subscribers to boot. Tell me, Cinderella, what's my service record?

Conservatives rarely seem to have a good answer to the "chickenhawk" allegations against Cheney and leading neoconservatives. It is really very easy: One, the personal history or (to the dubious extent we can divine it) personal courage of anyone is normally neither a minus nor a plus in terms of the wisdom of their recommended course of action. The recommended policy must be judged independently of the person associated with it. Two, even if one (unjustly) assumes personal cowardice or selfishness in a young man circa 1968, one should not assume that those same characteristics obtain today. People can become better. General Patton was famous, or should be famous, for not only observing but insisting to his men that cowards can become brave. Three, I do not blame anyone for LEGALLY avoiding combat service, or the risk thereof, in a war that the U.S. was clearly not trying to win, only to not-lose. It was obvious all along that Vietnam was being half-fought. There is a profound moral dilemma in asking men to risk there lives under such a circumstance. Men who do so deserve greater honor. But men who don't, do not deserve the dishonor that these suddenly pro-military lefties are demanding.

As someone who had number 15 in the lottery and was surprised and hugely relieved that Nixon abruptly ended the draft, let me tell you that nobody not already in the military wanted anything to do with the tail end of Vietnam. The men serving at that time, it goes without saying, never got anything like the gratitude they deserved. Having said that, I don't deny it would be better if those in positiions of civilian leadership had had some real military service.

7 and 8: Yeah, that too.

I don't deny it would be better if those in positiions of civilian leadership had had some real military service.

Eh. I like a good mix. It's nice to have both sides of the coin when our leaders discuss things like war and diplomacy. I think conservatives like to think leaders with military service have better points of view on such matters (as liberals too-often do in regards to men and women who have never been "brain-washed" by military service). I'm not so sure that we don't get a better solution when the civilians and veterans have to work it out together.

To return to the Weekly Standard piece, it seemed to be more about sentiment than analysis -- more about young persons' high idealism than a hard look at the country's really low political leadership. These decent young persons want to do their duty. But, as a practical matter, their duty will be determined by Bush and his generals.

Of course, these leaders have no shortage of operations for the troops, which we hear about daily. But Bush et al. have been unable to connect such operations and tactics to strategy and, thus, to the defeat and destruction of the country's enemies. This failure to connect means and ends (and even to define the ends or the cause or to identify the enemy) is a failure of statesmanship.

And such failure, it seems to me, would squander these young persons' spiritedness and willingness to sacrifice (as it would squander their lives and limbs). The disposition to serve is admirable, but do these young persons reflect on whom exactly they'll be serving (i.e., obeying) and how? As free, self-governing citizens, who are voluntarily putting their lives in officials' hands, they are entitled to ask. And to wait on a good answer.

He said he was only doing what he thought was right and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I loved that and my kids and I had a nice talk about what he meant.

What did he mean, in particular?

Just use our current Constitution, whereby civilians, with or without military experience, run the military, to effectively counter the chickenhawk crud.

Re: Comment #6 by David Frisk: I agree with all of it; its just not relevant. I didn't call anyone a chickenhawk, although many are. But the issue Barnett raises is more like hypocrisy - why do conservatives encourage lifestyles for other people which they don't accept for themselves, and don't encourage for their children, either. Donald Kagan used to say that military service should be compulsory for all Americans; but it wasn't for his children, obviously.

As a general rule, cons and especially neo-cons don't practice what they preach. That point goes to comment #7 also.

Bottom line: Barnett's article is about trying to find "good examples" of military service and blaming liberals and Democrats for being bad examples. But the record of Bushies and neo-cons is worse.

But the issue Barnett raises is more like hypocrisy - why do conservatives encourage lifestyles for other people which they don't accept for themselves, and don't encourage for their children, either....As a general rule, cons and especially neo-cons don't practice what they preach. That point goes to comment #7 also.

About which 'conservatives' are you speaking? Dean Barnett is not promising material for the military - he has cystic fibrosis and is doing well to get up a flight of stairs.

That aside, there are people in this world who do not live up to their principles well. Many years ago, I was a volunteer in the re-election campaign of Paul Sarbanes in Maryland. Critics of Sen. Sarbanes noted that this exponent of busing to achieve 'racial balance' in inner-city schools had placed his own children in private schools. He likely had his reasons: your children only get educated once, inner city schools tend to be disorderly and academically ineffectual, and busing programs (e.g. that in Boston) had a history of exacerbating these problems. It would be an ambitious project to demonstrate that folks such as Mr. Sarbanes are proportionately less common in their milieux than the stock Republican bogeys (e.g. David Vitter) are in their's. I would suggest you drop that line of argument.

If you want to make a general point that the capacity of elites to avoid the consequences of public policy is a structural defect in the making of public policy (and generative of injustices), fine. But the problem is with elites and the institutional arrangements within which they work, not with 'conservatives'. (By the way, the least accountable among elites are federal judges).

A larger and more representative sample can be seen here:

Why is it that those who bellow the loudest and beat the drums for war are usually republicans? Cowards all.

Nice cherrypicked list, traitor. Every Democrat that ever put on a uniform, and every Republican who didn't. Hmmm, where was Bill Clinton on that list?

The list is cherry picked, not 'representative' (where are Fred Barnes, Austin Bay, Ralph Peters, and Thomas Sowell on your list of "Preachers [sic] and Pundits"?), tendentious in what it says and what it does not say about its individual examples, and shot through with innuendo.

The selective service files of the person's listed are not public information. The military can be oddly exacting about what constitutes a disability. Hubert Humphrey (not listed) was dispensed from military service because of an unusual sort of hernia; Hendrik Hertzberg was bounced out of the Navy in 1968 because he bled profusely during dental work; I know a man in the banking business in Rochester who was declared unsuitable because of exczema on his feet. Any one of these men listed below could have been dispensed for something similar.

Consider some of the other examples offered:

1. The President: Complaints against his service record in the Texas Air National Guard have been discredited time and again, which may be why Mary Mapes resorted to the use of forged documents in an attempt to establish these falsehoods. (And I note that the partially substantiated complaints about John Kerry's service record are no where mentioned by your source).

2. Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan had medical deferments, in Buchanan's case granted in 1959 at some inconvenience to him (he was ejected from ROTC as a result). What evidence of chicanery on the part of these two men is there?

3. What biographical information I was able to find indicated that Robert Dornan enlisted in the military in 1952, at age 19. The Korean war ended the following year. What source was your guy using?

4. Lindsey Graham, JC Watts, Sean Hannity, Ralph Reed and Richard Santorum were of military age during a run of years (1973-97) when there was no particularly compelling reason to enlist if you lacked a vocation to be a professional soldier (you will recall the Gulf War was brief and was fought by activating reserve units).

5. Newt Gingrich, Richard Cheney, and Antonin Scalia all had dependent children at the time of the VietNam war, as did John Wayne at the time of World War II. Wayne was 34 years old in 1941. Only a modest minority of men in the 1907 cohort enilisted or were drafted. Scalia and Charlie Daniels were of draft age during a run of years (1954-62) when only a few thousand American soldiers were engaged in combat (in Lebanon in 1958 and in VietNam from November 1961).

6. Some of your examples do not support your general argument. Whatever his service record was, Christopher Matthews was an aide to Tip O'Neill and a died in the melt Democrat. Michael Medved has admitted that he worked gratis as a private schoolteacher in return for a letter from the school principal to his draft board attesting to his indispensibility. He was also employed by Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign around that time.

7. Some other examples are borderline. Douglas Feith and Jeb Bush were nineteen at the close of the VietNam war, and both had drawn lottery numbers that rendered it unlikely they would ever be drafted (as American troops were being rapidly withdrawn from there). About 90,000 men were conscripted between mid-1971 and mid-1973. About four million men came of age during that period of time.

Perhaps half of those born during the years running from 1939 through 1954 did not serve in any branch of the armed forces, guard, or reserve, and only 1 in 11 were posted to Indochina. Richard Cheney was deferred as a college student; but he was not called up when he was working an ordinary blue collar job in Wyoming either, likely for much the same reason many of his co-workders were not: "Selective Service" is selective.

Were Michael Moore or Al Franken on that list?

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