Whenever I meet a man my age that feels compelled to confess that he didn?t go to Vietnam, I tell him ?Good for you!? As a veteran of that war (or was it just a ?conflict??) in which over 50,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese lost their lives, I have always found it curious that men of my generation want to apologize for not serving in a stupid and unnecessary decade-long exercise in futility and an unforgivable waste of human potential.
Now two of my fellow veterans are running for president and trying to make one of their rivals feel bad about missing out on a government paid trip to Southeast Asia.
John Kerry and Wesley Clark recently attacked Howard Dean for avoiding the draft with a medical deferment and then heading directly to the slopes in Colorado.
When pressed by TV?s shouting head Chris Matthews (I don?t remember seeing Chris in boot camp), Dean admitted that he had arrived to his physical exam with x-rays and a doctor?s note because he was angling for a deferment. Good for him!
The fact that people like Dean and George W. were able to avoid Vietnam is old news, especially to those of us who were working-class kids sucked up into a biased and opportunistic Selective Service system. Scholarly debates still rage about whether or not poor people made up the bulk of the casualties but ask anyone who was there and they will tell you they met damn few graduates of Harvard and Yale wearing green fatigues and trudging off to work with an M-16.
Writing on slate.com, Michael Kinsley makes the following observation: ?So in judging the presidential candidates on all this, there are two factual questions. "What did you do to help fight the war?" is one. The second is, "What did you do to help stop it??
This seems right to me but the more important questions that need to be posed to the candidates is ?What did you do to help stop the invasion of Iraq and what are you doing to end the illegal occupation??
For this veteran, both Kerry and Clark have offered unconvincing answers. That happy skier from Vermont, however, has been right on target.
As a young man he was able to avoid the senseless killing. Now he wants to make sure another generation of young men and women do the same.
?Que bien por ?l!
Jorge Mariscal teaches Chicano/a and Spanish studies at the University of California, San Diego.