Sixtyish Saber-Rattlers

romneyWhen Mitt Romney was in college during the Vietnam War, he wanted Uncle Sam to draft anti-draft protestors, according to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.

Romney was at Stanford in 1965 and 1966. “Romney joined a counter-protest in favor of the draft,” O’Donnell said on his TV show the other night. Romney “publicly urged his government to draft unwilling participants into the war – to draft college classmates of his into the war – to send them to their deaths as long as Romney didn’t have to go to war himself,” O’Donnell said. (Vietnam and the draft were over by the time O’Donnell graduated from college in 1976.)

You might think anybody as gung-ho for the draft as Romney evidently was would have welcomed a draft notice or maybe even have volunteered.

Romney did neither.

Oh, he’s running for president as the “pro-military” candidate — the bad guys wouldn’t dare mess with Mitt, he wants voters to think. “…It was American military power that enabled the United States after World War II to stand in opposition to brutal and aggressive Communist dictatorship,” Romney’s website says.

He had a golden opportunity to make a personal “stand in opposition” to Communism in Vietnam . But he stayed in civvies, stateside and in France .

At Stanford, a college deferment shielded Romney from the draft. He got a ministerial deferment that allowed him to be a Mormon missionary to the French in 1966-1968.

“While he was trying, and mostly failing, to convert Parisians to Mormonism, while Romney was safe in France …tens of thousands of young Americans his age were being killed in Vietnam ,” O’Donnell said.

Romney was 21, still prime military age, in December, 1968, when he came home from France. The Vietnam War was still on. He still didn’t enlist.

On the campaign trail, Romney hasn’t said a lot about what he was doing during the Vietnam War. He talked about it to a New York Times reporter in 2007, when he was running for the 2008 GOP presidential nod.

According to David D. Kirkpatrick of the Times, candidate Romney remembered that when he was a missionary “he sometimes had wished he were in Vietnam instead of France.”

Kirkpatrick wrote that Romney defended American involvement in the war against French critics. “In hindsight, it is easy to be for the war when you don’t have to worry about going to Vietnam,” he quoted one of Romney’s fellow missionaries.

Kirkpatrick said Romney told another interviewer: “There were surely times on my mission when I was having a particularly difficult time accomplishing very little when I would have longed for the chance to be serving in the military, but that was not to be.”

“Not to be?” Unless Romney was in thrall of the infidel fates, he had the power to make it be. All he had to do was head to the nearest Army, Navy, Marine or Air Force recruiting office and put his John Hancock on enlistment papers.

Many other Mormons volunteered for military service, including “some of his fellow missionaries,” Kirkpatrick wrote.

Yet Romney sought, and got, another student deferment so he could enroll at Brigham Young, where he graduated in 1971. “When the draft lottery was introduced in December 1969, he drew a high enough number — 300 — that he would never be called up,” Kirkpatrick wrote.

The lottery didn’t affect volunteering. Romney still could have gone into service.

Eventually, Romney, like most Americans, including his dad, George Romney, came to question the Vietnam War.

berry craigIn 1967, the senior Romney, then governor of Michigan , famously said that when he returned from a visit to Vietnam two years before he had experienced “the greatest brainwashing anybody [could] get.”

“I think we were brainwashed,” Mitt Romney told the Boston Globe in 1970. “If it wasn’t a political blunder to move into Vietnam, I don’t know what is.”

But, Romney-like, he hedged, explaining to the Globe that he thought President Nixon sincerely believed invading Cambodia in 1970 was the right thing to do. (George Romney was Nixon’s Housing and Urban Development secretary.)

Fast forward 37 years. Mitt is sounding hawkish again.

Okay, I’m 62. I’ll admit flat out that when I was in college hugging my coveted 2-S student deferment, I never wished I were in Vietnam . I didn’t wish for any American to be in Vietnam .

Even so, O’Donnell’s story on Romney, Vietnam and the draft reminded me of a college buddy of mine who was for the war, big time.

I asked him why he didn’t enlist. “I support the war with my tax money,” he replied.

He wasn’t joking.

I suspect my college friend is voting for Romney. I’m not.

Berry CraigBut I don’t question for a minute Romney’s right to draft deferments for college and missionary work. I’m glad for him that he got them. Like my buddy and me, Romney beat the draft fair and square. I guess technically that makes us “draft evaders,” not “draft dodgers.” No doubt, Romney hates either handle.

Anyway, talk is cheap. Tough talk is cheapest of all. Saber-rattling ill-becomes guys who are AARP-eligible, yet, in their salad days, were pro-war and pro-draft while avoiding war and the draft themselves, no matter their motivations.

Berry Craig

Posted: Monday, 4 June 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on June 4, 2012
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.