Thursday, September 09, 2004

For those out there too young to remember I will explain what a draft deferment was. When the draft was originally instated during the Civil War, it was easy to get out if you had money. By the 1960s, wealth alone didn't get you out. You had to prove to the Draft Board that there was some reason that they should not draft you. The most basic deferment was health-related. If you were not well enough to be an effective soldier then they didn't want you. Some people faked health problems. Howard Dean got off because of a bad back although this did not stop him from skiing during the same time.

Prior enlistment or service in a different branch also got you out. This included the National Guard, the Coast Guard, and the Peace Corps. George Bush, of course, enlisted in the National Guard. Being a member of the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) also counted because you were obligated to enlist as an officer when you graduated. Bill Clinton joined the ROTC for a short period for this reason but dropped out as soon as he realized that he would not be drafted.

The draft was for the Army and Marines only. If you knew that you were likely to be drafted you could enlist in the Air Force or Navy in order to get easier service. Kerry may have done this. He has been quoted as saying that his father had talked him out of joining the Air Force because it would take the joy out of flying. Instead, Kerry joined the Navy. (Since Kerry owns a very fast power boat his hitch didn't affect him the same way as his father.)

The final way out of the draft was if the Draft Board judged that you couldn't be spared. This could include parents, doctors, police, and defense workers. If also included college students with some provisions. The college deferment changed several times during the Viet Nam war. Originally the draft converted a wide spread of ages. It was assumed that a college student should be allowed to graduate. There was still time to draft him then and the Army would get the benefit of the college degree. That is why is was a deferment rather than an exemption.

In 1969, Nixon decided that it was unfair to have the question of the draft hanging over the heads of young men for years. During the period prior to that your status was checked every year. Nixon overhauled the draft so that it was a single annual lottery for 19-year-olds. If you had a deferment while you were 19 then you were safe.

The deferment for students had sent an unprecedented number of young men to college. By 1970, deferment status for most majors had been removed. You could still get a deferment if you were majoring in medicine or education. The liberal slant in today's schools got a big boost from people avoiding the draft.

All of these were perfectly legal ways of avoiding going to Viet Nam. They were also widely accepted. No one was looked upon as a coward for taking one of these exemptions and no one worried that someone else was being drafted to die in your place.

There was a money aspect to it. It was easier to get into college if you had money wither because you didn't have to qualify for scholarships or because many colleges automatically admit the children of graduates. If you didn't have the money, though, lots of scholarships were available as were student loans. If you were smart enough to get in then there were always ways that you could raise the money.

No one with a deferment was called a draft dodger. There were enough of those already.

A draft dodger was someone who was drafted but didn't show up. Some of these people went underground, adopting fake identities. Lots of them fled to Canada. Some were arrested and jailed. These are the people who were looked down on.

By the time Kerry enlisted, Viet Nam was already regarded as a "bad" war, something to be avoided if possible. People who took legal deferments were regarded as smart, not cowardly. People who enlisted (especially those who volunteered for Viet Nam) were looked upon as brave but, maybe a bit dumb.

For Kerry to make any statements in 2004 about the form of service that Bush chose in 1968 is to re-write history. And if you read his testimony from 1971, you wonder why anyone would volunteer.

Obviously most of the press wants to believe in Kerry so they don't even bother to investigate the SwiftVets' charges. They don't need to because they think they know the truth. Any denial from the Kerry campaign is enough. They don't like Bush so they fall all over themselves trying to find dirt on him. That's why we are hearing Bush's service record rehashed for the fourth time.

Years ago I saw a melodrama followed by some sketches. One of these had a man and woman off-stage. The man was cracking a whip onstage. Otherwise all we heard was their voices.

Man: The whip!
Woman: Not the whip!
Man: The whip!
Woman: Anything but the whip!
Man: Anything?
Woman: The whip!

This could be re-written for the presidential campaign:

Man: Bush!
Woman: No, not Bush!
Man: Bush!
Woman: Anybody But Bush!
Man: Kerry?
Woman: Bush!

No comments: