Its been 40 years last month since a cocky, pimple-faced kid from Galesburg badgered his very skeptical father into letting him join the United States Army.
And it was almost exactly 38 years ago that a very different young man stepped off a plane just two days back from Vietnam. My Old Man and me never, ever saw eye-to-eye on that war. It was a conflict he was vehemently opposed to and one, at least at that time in my life I couldnt be prouder of. "The dayll come when these people (Pops euphemism for the so-called powers that be) will crap on everything you believe in," he once yelled across the TV room between spots on the nightly news which, as usual, had sparked another of our knock-down, drag-out battles on the topic. I guess it took me longer than most to start having second thoughts about that war.
But up until the last few years I never really had cause to remember my Fathers warning.
I believe the first jog came back in the bitter Republican presidential primaries of 2000.
At the time, Arizona Sen. John McCain was giving George W. Bush a run for the GOP nomination, and left the then Texas governor battling for his up until that point brief political life.
Then in South Carolina a state known for its high percentage of military active-duty and retired personnel the attack dogs went to work on Sen. McCain. Conventional wisdom had it that the Senators status as a decorated POW from the Vietnam War might give him an edge. But that was before the spin-doctors hinted very strongly that that same leg up might also call into question the Senators mental stability, having been the victim of torture during his captivity. On the Democratic side, Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who as a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient from the same war, seemed above reproach, caught a river of bad press when some of his combat experiences were called into question.
Unfortunately, as the current race shakes out, the Vietnam War is still with us, more than three decades after we thought wed laid that regrettable episode to rest.
Now its President Bushs glaring lack of combat service versus Sen. John Kerrys decorated stint in Southeast Asia with the Navy that have the image makers working overtime.
And, unfortunately, the attacks against those who served in Vietnam arent limited to cross-party forays, as witnessed by the Republican speaker of the Houses recent assault on the same Sen. McCain the Bush 2000 campaign had seemingly laid to rest.
Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who himself used a medical deferment to avoid service in Vietnam, had the unmitigated nerve to try and lecture the GOP senator from Arizona on the meaning of sacrifice during time of war. That not only takes a heap of gal, but a bottomless wealth of insensitivity. Heres a little piece of free advice for all those now engaged in conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan; dont be at all surprised if 30-some odd years from now youre competing for a job against somebody who avoided military service and they find a way to use your patriotism against you. Youd think that after a while, this nations young people would get the message that the ones who end up running this society never seem to have to actually go out and fight for its survival. Ho Chi Minh yes thats yet another name from that dark era in this nations past once opined that leaders of nations should only be those who risked life and limb in its defense. It seems to have a very important leveling affect on a leaders use of military force. And, while Im on the topic, Pops, this is yet another in whats proved a long line of things you were right about.