Yeoman of the Guard
AWOL? Probably not. A draft dodger? No question.
Updated Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004, at 5:25 PM
The documents released by the White House on Feb. 10 (available
Important caveat: Chatterbox is assuming these documents have not been tampered with. Given their mysterious appearance now rather than four years ago, when the Boston Globe's Walter V. Robinson put this story on the map, it isn't completely paranoid to question their authenticity. (For what it's worth, the National Personnel Records Center says it has no record of any changes being made.) We should further remember that the early 1970s, when these documents were first filed, was a golden age of executive branch corruption. Taking these factors into consideration, Chatterbox estimates that there's a 5 percent chance that the White House-released documents are phony. A less rude way to put this is that there's a 95 percent chance the documents are genuine. So that's what we'll assume.
To say that Bush squeaked by on his National Guard requirements doesn't mean that he served his country in any meaningful way during the Vietnam War. The Republican National Committee and the Bush White House have been struggling mightily to change the subject from Bush's truancy to the disrespect Bush's critics are showing for the National Guard, from which the Army and Air Force currently have 100,000 troops mobilized. The Guard has already sent more than 60,000 troops to Iraq, and many more will follow. It's a serious fighting force worthy of gratitude and respect. "I would be careful not to denigrate the Guard," Bush warned Tim Russert in his Feb. 8 Meet the Press interview.
It's fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard, though, and the reason I wouldn't is because there are a lot of really fine people who have served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq.
But what really denigrates the National Guard of 2004 is to compare it to the National Guard of the early 1970s, when it was a haven for people who wanted to avoid the Vietnam draft. Not the cushiest haven, perhaps—not as good as divinity school, for instance—but a haven nonetheless. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen confessed on Feb. 10 that, like Bush, he joined the Guard to stay out of Vietnam.
[B]ack then the Guard was where you went if you did not want to fight. That was the case with me. I opposed the war in Vietnam and had no desire to fight it. … I did my basic and advanced training (combat engineer) and returned to my unit. I was supposed to attend weekly drills and summer camp, but I found them inconvenient. I "moved" to California and then "moved" back to New York, establishing a confusing paper trail that led, really, nowhere. For two years or so, I played a perfectly legal form of hooky. To show you what a mess the Guard was at the time, I even got paid for all the meetings I missed. … The National Guard and the Reserves were something of a joke. Everyone knew it. Books have been written about it.
Cohen's hooky was not, in fact, legal, but it wasn't something you had to worry much about being punished for. During those waning days of the draft (and the war), National Guard officers weren't eager to baby-sit draft-dodgers, so the ones who agitated to leave often got their wish. Out of a total combined force of roughly half a million, the Guard sent 8,728 troops to Vietnam during the entire war, of whom 83 died. These deaths were tragic, but they weren't large in number. To put it crudely, the mortality rate for National Guardsmen during the Vietnam War was lower than the mortality rate for rock-throwing antiwar protesters and bystanders in the Prentice Hall parking lot at Kent State on May 4, 1970, when Ohio National Guardsmen killed four of them.
It does the current National Guard no disservice to say that the Guard of that earlier era was not exactly Charlie Company. But it does John Kerry a serious disservice to deny that President Bush evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.
Bush-National Guard Time Line
Bush fails to take his annual physical and is ultimately removed from flying status.
Bush again requests a temporary transferto Alabama, this time to serve in September, October, and November with Montgomery's 187th Tactical Recon Group.
After Blount loses his bid for the Senate, Bush moves back to Houston.
While visiting his parents in Washington, D.C., Bush goes out drinking with his 15-year-old brother Marvin. On the way home, George W. hits a garbage can with the car. George W. confronts an angry George H.W. by saying: "I hear you're looking for me. You wanna go mano a mano right here?"
SOURCE:U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 1, 1999
George W. starts working at PULL, a mentoring program for kids in inner-city Houston.
Four points earned
Bush starts his first year at Harvard Business School.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of President Bush as an Air National Guard fighter pilot from Agence France-Presse.