Of all the boondoggles and messes this country has ever gotten into, the Viet Nam War was the worst. The polarization in politics we experience today is a bi-product of the Viet Nam War. Nothing has ever divided this country like this misguided war.
Before Viet Nam, Republicans and Democrats were never that far apart in their policies. The two parties actually talked to each other and worked together. There used to be something called compromise. Today, when one party calls for a bi-partisan agreement they really just mean “Vote with us.”
Before Viet Nam, we used to believe our leaders. We thought they knew best. If our leaders said we needed to risk our life in a country we never heard of to prevent a whole bunch of countries from turning communist and ultimately challenging our freedom, then by gum we fought.
When we watched the six o’clock news and saw the horrors and results of war, and when we watched our men come home in body bags, a lot of people, especially those of us who might have to go and fight, started to question our reasons for that war.
I know I did not want to go and fight in the rice paddies of a country I had never heard of. Maybe if these people had blown up the Empire State Building and threatened us at home I could have understood the need to risk my life. They didn’t threaten us directly, and I didn’t see the need to risk my life.
As I approached college graduation and the end to my draft deferment I began to disagree with the need to fight this war more and more. I was not in the minority. Many kids my age went on to graduate school to extend their deferment. I was not graduate school material, hell I barely graduated from college.
Not wanting to be drafted I signed up to be a pilot in the Air Force. I took all the tests and then was told I didn’t qualify as I was too heavy for my height. That surprised me as I was 5’ 10” and 190 pounds. Except for a small blip of a beer belly, I was a brick. Looking back, I think the recruiter was being nice and I had probably failed the mental tests, not the physical tests. I’m sure they were right; I doubt I had the right stuff to fly a jet plane.
I have to laugh when I think back a few years to the litmus test of armed service during this time, that all politicians had to pass.
Clinton was called a draft dodger for being a Rhodes Scholar. Bush was lambasted for having daddy get him into the National Guard and fly planes not destined for Viet Nam. Al Gore went as a photographer, John Kerry fought in a scary boat but some say he copped out early.
Hell, it is all bull shit. It was not the least bit uncommon for people to try to get out of the draft or avoid going to that war somehow. People fled to Canada. People claimed conscientious objector status. People knocked up their wives and girl friends. I had a friend who had slightly elevated blood pressure; he drank gallons of beer and ate pounds of salty pretzels the night before his draft physical. He was deferred 1Y for blood pressure that was through the roof. Guys with bad knees were playing in the NFL, but got the 1Y deferment.
Me? When I washed out from the Air Force, I joined the ranks of the “How the hell do I get a deferment” majority of my age. I told the draft doctors of bone chips in my neck from a football injury. X-rays confirmed the issue and I was 1Y.
I did need a C6 laminectomy to restore feeling on my left side 15 years later, so the deferment was not total bull, but…
I could have served. I could have not mentioned the injury…I didn’t tell the Air Force and they never saw it. In effect I was a draft dodger. Fortunately I never ran for President.
Anyway I am not ashamed. It was a stupid war. Over fifty thousand young men died for no reason. The war divided our country and taught us to not trust our leaders. We still have not recovered from the trauma of that mistake.
I often wonder if JFK was not murdered, would he have gracefully deescalated our presence. Lyndon Johnson sure didn’t. He made up some bull-shit Gulf of Tonkin incident, sent in the troops, divided the country, and we have never been the same.