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I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

Easy Patriotism

Easy Patriotism
By Michael E. Berumen 7-1-04

One of the things I've noticed is that age seems to affect the patriotism of many men. Along with their gray hair and a paunch comes an increased interest in going to war. Could it be that this is because the business of war will now be done by others, and now that one is out of harm's way, one can more safely cheer them on from the sidelines? Isn't it also strange how generals, men whose occupation is to wage war, are far more reluctant to go to war than are men who never served? Perhaps it is not so strange, for they are more familiar with the price that will be paid.

Some of the powerful people who are assigning our soldiers to dangerous duties were able to avoid military service in their youth, even when their nation actively sought their participation. Some took steps to avoid being drafted or, with the help of powerful allies, saw to it that they would be out of harms way in an assignment reserved for the privileged few. President Bush managed to jump over many other, more qualified applicants for a coveted Air Guard slot, and then both the records and eye-witnesses (this is not the Dan Rather stuff, but that which was properly authenticated) say that he failed to show up to duty for months on end, and that he even violated direct orders to take a flight physical. Vice President Dick Cheney received multiple draft deferments, recently reporting that he had "other priorities" at the time. Several of the most prominent red-meat conservative, talk-show hosts avoided military service. These armchair patriots have one characteristic in common: they seem to revel in seeing others perform duties that they themselves were unwilling to do.

What is wrong with this picture: a man who shirked even his comparatively cushy duty, and his sidekick who avoided the draft, were viewed as more deserving of our trust in defending the nation, in making it more secure, than John Kerry, who volunteered for combat and served with distinction? It is testimony to the power of marketing. Kerry was castigated as a phony for seeking medals for his service (Winston Churchill, whose physical and moral courage no one could deny, was an active medal hunter), and people argue over whether he was wounded quite enough. An inch or two difference could have meant his life....but this was too far from death to count. He was later thought unfit to command for standing up for his beliefs, beliefs that were eventually shared by the majority of Americans, whilst his opponent, a partying frat boy who only became an adult at age 40 is somehow viewed as more reliable in the face of danger. The President was sold as a model of dogged gallantry because of his words and his visage, not anything he ever did.

Our president swooped down from the sky in his airplane onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, with his set jaw and flight jacket, strutting across the stage as if he were warrior-in-chief, the macho cheerleader from Andover, using then, and at every other opportunity, all the subtle and not-so-subtle symbols of our military might to bolster his own image and standing amongst voters, while his supporters denigrated his opponent for having the audacity to even bring up his own military service. They criticized Kerry's supporters for bringing up the President's inglorious past, saying such matters are now irrelevant. Better yet, they asked, incredulously, how can we even know what really happened so long ago. Of course, it does not stop them from assuming "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492;" however, the historical evidence of little more than 30 years ago, we are told, is completely unreliable. That is, of course, when it is not in their interest. Others are not even this charitable, however, finding Kerry's combat service (the Navy brass clearly thought otherwise) altogether inadequate.

The reality is that many of the veterans who opposed Kerry (keep in mind that many also supported him) are mostly angry that he later spoke against the war, which, I believe, caused them to think that it impugned their own record of service. It did not. Soldiers do not start wars; politicians do. Some thought he exaggerated the degree to which war crimes occurred. But that there were war crimes in Vietnam is well documented and undeniable. And he never said all soldiers were guilty of war crimes. People have a way of forgetting the unpleasantness of the past, but I well remember those difficult times and the multifarious reports of the tragedies and horrors of that war.

I myself suspect that a consequential number of the votes for President Bush came from people who also had an opportunity to serve in the military during the Vietnam-draft era, but who managed to avoid it, and who have subsequently sought a kind of vicarious redemption for their own failure to do their duty, redemption through the service of others, service managed by their fellow, erstwhile shirker, who is now Commander-in-Chief. They do not criticize him for what they themselves did, indeed, he is their redemptive symbol: an armchair warrior raised from the ashes of a feckless youth.

A friend once asked me if I thought only those people who had served in the military ought to be eligible for offices that can commit troops. I do not. But I do think that they should be people who at least were willing to serve their country in some capacity. I am reminded of an article I once read by economist, Uwe Reinhardt. He was criticizing those who think that patriotism is mere sentiment and love of country. Such a lukewarm, facile definition allows the likes of John Wayne, George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, or other showy, grandiloquent lovers of country to pose as quintessential patriots. Reinhardt pointed out that nearly everyone loves his country. In this one, what, after all, is not to love, given how lucky most of us are to be here? But patriotism requires more than this. Reinhardt quoted from his dictionary, which defined a patriot as one "who loves, supports and defends his country." The emphasis, here, should be on defend. I would only add, showing a willingness to defend.

Our wars, by and large, are fought and won by the boys of Main Street, the ghetto, ranch-style tract homes, and the trailer parks, and not of posh prep schools and fraternities. That they would trust and welcome compassion and support from their commander-in-chief, notwithstanding his own lackluster history, is no surprise. They are soldiers, after all. The fact remains, George W. Bush had his chance to serve; instead, he drank and cavorted, and he didn't show up for his meetings. He failed to do his duty. At least Dick Cheney had the honesty to say that he had more important things to do.