The world has now been bombarded with the ‘debate’ over presidential aspirant Donald Trump’s trashing of the Vietnam war record of John McCain. That fight (for me at least) was a sideshow. Should military men be celebrated for their suffering? I think their sacrifice should be acknowledged. OTOH, as is argued in some places, McCain’s mission involved the commission of a war crime–attacking a civilian target in a country we were not officially at war with (details here). There is a whole separate debate (highlighted by arguments about the Confederate Battle Flag) about how we honor the sacrifice of military men engaged in lost causes–or worse, in causes that may make our skin crawl. The great German pilot and flying ace Erich Hartmann shot down 352 Soviet aircraft to become the all-time leading fighter ace of all time. He was terribly brave and suffered (and survived) great peril both during and after the war (he was imprisoned by the Soviets for a decade). It wasn’t his fault that the cause he flew for embraced the mission of ethnic cleansing of the world’s ‘untermenschen‘. So celebrations of his achievement are somewhat… muted.
But that isn’t what I want to discuss here. Trump didn’t call out McCain for his military actions that were arguably a breach of international law. Instead, he blamed McCain for being taken prisoner in the first place. Outrage ensued. And now someone has gone through the trouble of looking up Trump’s military record or lack thereof. And it makes for interesting reading. Trump’s ultimate disqualification for military service was a ‘bone spur’ (following four college deferments). But Trump was no milquetoast in his formative years–he was a standout athlete at the New York Military Academy and later at University of Pennsylvania. And when confronted about the exemption, he couldn’t remember which foot the bone spur was on. As someone who has had the occasional leg issue, I can guarantee you I remember which leg was the source of pain.
Trump appears to belong to that odious clan of individuals who’ve been derided by the sobriquet ‘war wimp’. That was the title of an iconic article put out by the Village Voice several decades ago (around 1986-87) when the back-and-forth about who was a ‘patriot’ got hot and heavy. The article was centered around Pat Robertson, whose presidential campaign was gathering steam (and who served in the Army as a young Lieutenant during Korea). Senator Pete McCloskey, who also served during Korea, recalled that he was onboard a transport to Korea along with Robertson, and Robertson’s father (then a Senator) got Pat out of duty in a combat zone. The story is fleshed out here, and was corroborated by another unlucky young lieutenant on the way to the meat grinder that was the Korean war. War wimp is the title bestowed on those who beat the drum for wars and then personally ducked service. That definition covers a very large proportion of the men now rattling swords for a war with Iran. In other words, if you think war is a great thing but you ducked your opportunity when your country called, you’re a war wimp.
So: Dick Cheney–War Wimp (“I had other priorities”).
Willard (‘Mitt’) Romney (who engaged in abusive pro-war protests in his college career and then went off to do missionary work instead of serving) War wimp.
Karl Rove–War Wimp (I don’t know his stance on Vietnam)?
Rudy Giuliani–War Wimp (I don’t know his stance on Vietnam)?
I could go on like this, but I don’t really have to. Someone was nice enough to compile a list of war wimps and they put it here. It makes interesting reading.
Understand that I’m not deriding those who avoided the draft because they thought (and declared) that the Vietnam War was morally wrong. There are many in my acquaintance who fit that profile, and they are decent people. Nobody who had any chance to avoid service in Vietnam can be faulted for it–it was a lost cause from the beginning, and the veterans were used and thrown away (something that’s true still). But if you are content to sit on the sidelines and cheerlead the death and disemberment of your peers in war while dodging service yourself, I have a problem with you. In condemning Trump, I’m merely following in the footsteps of the late Phil Ochs, who summed up the issues in his famous ‘Draft Dodger Rag‘. Donald Trump talks a good, bellicose game, but an analysis of his own decisions and actions during the years of Vietnam indicate that when his own skin is on the line, he figured out ways to duck service. Of course, I can’t get inside The Donald’s mind (insert your own hair joke here).
I’m just sayin’.