In a rare blunder for the normally infallible Bush spin machine, the White House has released records from the President's disputed Air National Guard service during the Vietnam War. I say blunder because, instead of proving that our young President-to-be fullfilled his duty, the records point to lengthy gaps in Bush's service. However, for all the media frenzy surrounding the release of these records, the real question in my mind is not simply whether Bush fullfilled his National Guard duty or not, but the nature of his choice to serve in general.
Anyone who was alive and sentient during the Vietnam era, and certainly many of us who were not, know and acknowledge that service in the National Guard or Reserves was an easy way out of being drafted into combat duty in Vietnam. Certainly there were many members of the Guard and Reserves who served, as they do today, out of duty and love of country, but there were many others, especially those with the wealth or connections to get them into the Guard and Reserves, who joined specifically to avoid the draft. No one can deny this fact.
Vietnam was a time of intense internal conflict for this country, and many who made their choice not to go to war based their decisions on moral and political grounds. Still others made their choices out of fear. It would be wrong for us to condemn any of these men, even those whose decisions were driven by cowardice, for their actions. For, to my mind at least, cowardice is so plainly common that it's hardly even notable. It's the heroism of men like Al Gore, who served because, as he has said, he knew that if he didn't go to Vietnam someone else from his small town would have to go in his place, that is truly remarkable.
But if we can't blame people for the choices they made thirty years ago in a time of national turmoil, we can still hold them accountable for those choices. This is where the question of President Bush's service record becomes important. It's unlikely, given Bush's political track record and that of his family, that the young George Bush chose Guard duty over service in Vietnam because of political or moral qualms. If this is true, as it seems it must be, then we can only conclude that Bush wrangled his way into the Air National Guard because he greatly preferred this service to combat duty in Vietnam. And who wouldn't?
What's disturbing, from today's perpective, is that the President of the United States, who declined to fight in a war he didn't oppose, is now ordering thousands of our own young men and women to fight in a war he created. It's an ugly picture, the true evil of the chickenhawk, and it's why the question of President Bush's military service is so important to the question of whether he should remain as our "war president."