DECEMBER 23 2009 18:53h
Who has a better chance of being elected President: a draft dodger, a war profiteer or defender of his homeland?
Who has a better chance of being elected President: a draft dodger, a war profiteer or defender of his homeland? It depends, first on the country and then on the war.
The Vietnam war, for example, created great divisions among the American people, splitting the population fifty-fifty along mainly ideological lines. The opponents of the war argued that the United States was not being attacked, the American people were not in direct danger, yet we were sending our young men to a faraway Asian country to be killed in a war that was unwinnable, as the French had already learned. Supporters of the war countered that the American people were exposed to an even greater danger than direct physical attack, Communism, and that it was the duty of the United States to stop its spread to the democratic world. This argument had great resonance among those feared a possible spread of the ideological excesses of Stalin, Mao, and other mass murderers. When various Vietnam veterans became candidates for the American presidency, these arguments came immediately into play.
Take Bob Kerrey, who had aspirations to become the Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 2000. Although he had received the Bronze Star and the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in Vietnam, Newsweek investigative reporter, Gregory Vistica, uncovered and then exposed to the media a gruesome fact from Kerrey’s past: one night in 1969, in the Mekong Delta village of Thanh Phong, Bob Kerry had knifed to death an elderly couple and three children, then gunned down a group of women and children. Confronted by these revelations, Kerry admitted he had agonized over his actions ever since the events. He declared that his bravery citation was false, and that he was withdrawing from the Presidential race.
And back in 1992, when Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States, he was asked about his military service during the Vietnam War. He stated only that it was a “fluke” that he did not end up in Vietnam. The facts are different, as presented in numerous official records, which illustrates how he later got the nickname “Slick Willy”. He used various connections to gain an extension of a student deferment, registered for the ROTC and then failed to report for duty, made promises and commitments he failed to honor, and under murky circumstances left for England on a Rhodes scholarship, where he organized protests against the Vietnam war. He later stated he was not in principle opposed to war or the military, only the Vietnam war. In Clinton’s case, his draft dodging was a benefit rather than a hindrance, as most Americans had by then decided the war had been a huge mistake in the first place. He was elected President of the United States.
George Bush Junior’s military career was similar to Clinton’s: using political connections to obtain a safe appointment in the National Guards, then failing to fulfill these minimal obligations, and again using connections to gain an honorable discharge in spite of the failure. He, too, was ultimately elected U.S. President It seemed the American public held little animosity towards draft dodgers, deserters, and anyone else who used their wits or influence to stay out of danger in Vietnam.
Nonetheless, those who, unlike Bob Kerrey, did serve honorably and underwent great sacrifice and suffering in the same war were honored and respected by the American voting public, and their military records were an election advantage. John McCain, a recent U.S. presidential candidate, reaped huge benefits from his war background . Shot down in 1967, he spent five years in prisoner of war camps - two in solitary confinement - underwent extensive torture, and sustained lasting injuries from his mistreatment. His bravery and suffering under extreme circumstances served as a major advantage in his campaign, even among those who opposed the war. He ultimately lost, but certainly not because of his war record.
Is there a difference, though, when the war in question is an act of aggression against one’s own homeland and not in a faraway, unknown continent, when one’s own family, neighbors, and friends are in danger of being killed, tortured, raped, losing all their possessions, driven into exile or refugee status? Would a candidate’s refusal or failure to serve be an election benefit or disadvantage in this type of war? What if a candidate reaped material benefits as well during the war in which he did not fight?
This has been a vocal issue in the Croatian campaign, especially between three candidates who belonged, prior to the campaign, to the same political party. One, Dragan Primorac, who left at the beginning of the aggression instead of remaining to defend his homeland, and remained outside Croatia until the hostilities had ended, has omitted mention of the Homeland War in his election biography, wisely choosing to concentrate on his academic achievements. The only war connection in his campaign – although not to the Homeland War - is in his strange choice of election materials: a picture of himself grinning beside Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, considered by many world politicians, human rights organizations, and intellectuals, as an extremist war crimes apologist. (www.thenation.com/20091019/horowitz_weiss).
A second “handsome as sin” candidate, Nadan Vidosevic, the one many dim-witted pundits assume dim-witted females will vote for based solely on his looks (smarmy in my view) is accused of exploiting the war period to accumulate extensive and unexplained material holdings as well as other collector’s items, including: expensive chandeliers from South America, transported back from an “official trip” on the presidential plane, to a unique rug from Afghanistan decorated with land mines and helicopters about which he was especially excited, according to journalists with whom he shared his delight. Better to walk comfortably on a land mine woven into a rug than get blown up by a real one, which was the cruel fate of many of his landsmen at that time, on the front lines defending the country.
The third candidate, Dr. Andrija Hebrang, spent the entire war in the field, tending to the wounded, organizing wartime medical care and mobile hospitals, negotiating release of prisoners, and evacuating people from war zones.
Should a candidate’s war record be a voting issue? And if so, which of these three would make a better President and protect his country’s best interests? The one who, upon seeing his own or a neighbor’s house burning, packs his bags and flees the country, the one who rushes into the house with a big bag and grabs the silver and the paintings before the flames become too hot, or the one who rescues the family, friends, or neighbors from the house as it collapses around them? Let’s face it: in order to rule greatly, one has to feel greatly. Anything else is sheer mediocrity. As Thomas Paine once said:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”