February 17, 2004

Bush's national guard scandal is nothing new

Recently, opponents have called into question President Bush's National Guard service (or lack thereof) during the war in Vietnam. As the son of a Congressman, President Bush was able to fulfill his service in Texas, not Vietnam, as a member of the state Air Guard (I guess in case the Viet Cong crossed the Rio Grande or something). There was a period of over two months when Bush was unaccounted for. Democrats are looking to capitalize on this possible blemish. But as the Bush-haters in this country smell blood, I find myself feeling uneasy from the stench.

Perhaps my discomfort is because, like most Americans, I see political mudslinging as repugnant.

Or maybe I'm upset because I think that we, as liberals, do not need to look far back into Bush's history for compelling criticism. Why talk about what he did or did not do decades ago, when he has screwed up so much in the past three years? Among many other atrocities, he has successfully stripped education of federal funding while claiming victory on his pitiful attempt at reform in the No Child Left Behind Act. He has privatized health care while calling it a public reorganization. He has created a dangerous precedent of preemptive war for purposes of national security while making the Middle East even less stable. The list is endless. I could spend the rest of my ink telling you how he is destroying our country.

But perhaps the reason I am so uneasy with his service in the National Guard is that this problem of a rich son skipping out on military service is not particular to President Bush, but endemic to our political system.

In the conflicts following World War II, especially Vietnam, federal officials, particularly members of Congress, were able to secure cushy assignments for their children, far away from the front, while minority and working class Americans died on the front lines. President Bush benefited from his father's position, but so did Al Gore. Although Gore actually went to Vietnam, he served as a photojournalist and never engaged in combat. In other words, this offense is not specific to one political party, but characteristic of the political elite in general.

Can we blame parents who, while in power, use their influence to protect their children? Of course not. But we can and must blame them if they advocate and perpetuate armed conflict that kills other children of America while their own children are spared.

This duplicitous practice keeps legislators removed from the immediate impact of the far-reaching decisions they make every day. This isolation is by no means specific to war, but the hypocrisy of this isolation is glaring in the light of armed conflict.

Thus, when Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives earlier this year calling for a draft for the coming invasion of Iraq, his motives for this political stunt were well founded. Rangel knew, as we all do, that representatives would reflect on their vote to go to war very differently if they knew that their votes could create even the slightest chance that their children could be conscripted.

Unfortunately, this disconnect between those who make war and those who die in it will increase in the 21st century as warfare continues to be even more specialized. Now, as the feasibility of a draft fades into history, the chance that a vast number of Americans will be conscripted into service in future conflict fortunately becomes smaller. But as a result, a minority of Americans will comprise the country's military, and if the current military is any indication of the future demographics of the armed forces, the Americans who will defend our country will be of a lower class and many will be minorities or even non-citizens.

Therefore, the only conclusion I can glean from the controversy surrounding Bush's military service is that he is one more member of the political elite who makes war without feeling the incredible suffering that war inevitably brings into the homes of families who have loved and lost.

Then let's stop putting pictures of Bush in his Texas Air Guard uniform on the network news and in the print media. Instead, let us replace his picture with the faces of the over 500 men and women who gave their lives in the conflict that the President began. Let us show the people of this country the faces of men and women who were deprived of the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that we intend to insure for all Americans. Let us show their faces and remember that their deaths might have been averted.

I wish that their parents could have pulled the political strings necessary to keep them away from death.