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Kentucky Farmer Hosts Sing-Along with Mitch and the 'Chickenhawk'

Berry Craig: I'd be embarrassed to make a career – and a pile of money – crooning about patriotism and sacrifice in war when I knew I had a chance to fight for those same values and chose to let others go in harm's way.

Talk is cheap. Words to purportedly patriotic tunes can ring hollow too when they are sung by a guy who skipped military service in wartime yet bases his whole show biz persona on very public professions of love for God and country.

Chickenhawk Mitch McConnell

I mean Lee Greenwood. The country music star is famous for crooning “God Bless the U.S.A.” The tune was “voted the most recognizable patriotic song in America,” according to his website.

The Grammy Award-winning Greenwood, 72, sang his signature song at a free concert on behalf of the Mitch McConnell campaign Tuesday night on a farm near Murray, Kentucky. McConnell stood next to Greenwood as the popular recording artist belted out “God Bless the U.S.A.”

About 200 people, including First District U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, showed up.

McConnell and Greenwood (Whitfield, too) share hard right Republican politics with a god-and-country slant.

Greenwood, who likes to call himself “pro-military,” nonetheless stayed stateside on Civvy Street during Vietnam, the war of his youth. As a result, he is enshrined in The New Hampshire Gazette’s “Chickenhawk Hall of Shame” -- more on that dubious distinction in a minute.

Interestingly, while the senate majority leader wannabe had Greenwood in tow, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat who wants McConnell’s job, was campaigning with Cecil Roberts, international president of the United Mine Workers of America. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler joined them in Madisonville, Kentucky, about 88 miles northeast of Murray.

Roberts, who will turn 68 on Halloween, was a combat infantryman in Vietnam. He was in a mortar crew with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade of the 23rd “Americal” Division.

The last time this old reporter interviewed Roberts – it was a couple of years ago -- he had a message for uber-conservative, self-styled patriots who are cheerleaders for war but who avoided fighting in war:

“Who is Sean Hannity to decide who is a patriotic American? Who is Rush Limbaugh? They were never in the service. Working-class people fight most of the wars. Working-class people, when called upon, they answer the call, whether it’s World War I, II, Korea, Vietnam, the Mideast.”

berry craig

Greenwood was a father at age 17. That earned him a hardship deferment from the draft. He said he would have served if drafted.
But there was nothing to stop Greenwood from volunteering. A lot of other teenage dads have enlisted in America’s wars.

Even so, “the singer knows first-hand what it’s like to have loved ones fighting for the freedom of all Americans as his father served in the Navy & the Merchant Marine in World War II,” his website also says.

My 90-year-old dad is a Navy combat veteran of the Pacific Theater in World War II. But this 64-year-old non-veteran will leave the effusive patriotism to Greenwood and other “pro-military” non-veterans.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame Greenwood for using his 3-A deferment. I treasured my 2-S college student deferment.

I also chose to stay stateside out of uniform. I didn’t want anybody going to Vietnam. Call me unpatriotic if you will, but I saw the conflict as essentially a civil war between two anti-democratic regimes that wasn’t worth a drop of American blood.

I'd be embarrassed to make a career – and a pile of money – crooning about patriotism and sacrifice in war when I knew I had a chance to fight for those same values and chose to let others go in harm's way.

I'd be embarrassed to make a career – and a pile of money – crooning about patriotism and sacrifice in war when I knew I had a chance to fight for those same values and chose to let others go in harm's way.

Oh, and the enemy soldiers Greenwood could have fought in Vietnam were Communists. Greenwood, a born-again Christian and free enterprise fellow, especially hates godless, collectivist Reds.

The Gazette doesn’t pull punches with Greenwood, claiming he preferred “lounging around in Vegas” and “the record racket” to combat in Vietnam. As a result, The Gazetteawarded him the “Chickenhawk First Class with Distinguished Fleeing Cross.”

The septuagenarian Greenwood reminds me of something the late Sen. George McGovern said: “I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”

McGovern, a combat bomber pilot in World War II, ran for president in 1972 in opposition to the Vietnam War. The anti-war warrior got my vote, but he lost.

In any event, the Chickenhawk database includes a host of other long-in-the-tooth GOP bomb-our-foes-back-to-the-stone-age conservatives who were Vietnam War no-shows. They include Dick Cheney, David Koch, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Mitt Romney and Ted Nugent. There are many more.

George W. Bush, Dan Quayle and other sons of wealthy and influential parents got in the National Guard to get out of Vietnam. That took pull. Guard and Reserve outfits were almost never sent to Vietnam, and we all knew it.

In any event, the whole Chickenhawk muster roll is here.

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The website explains, “When an American male (or an especially belligerent female) makes the challenging transition from late adolescence into early adulthood, he is faced with many decisions. One certain, specific combination of choices will result in his becoming a Chickenhawk: choosing to ‘support’ war, while also choosing not to serve in the military. His motto becomes: ‘Let’s you and him go fight; I’ll hold your coat.’”

Chickenhawk Mitch McConnell

Lieutenant George McGovern and Eleanor McGovern

The website also details the various Chickenhawk decorations:

  • “If there is no draft, and the nation is at peace, the individual becomes a Common Chickenhawk; (Hannity, et al.)
  • “If there is a draft, and the nation is at peace, the individual becomes a Chickenhawk First Class;
  • “If the there is a draft, and the nation is at war, the individual becomes a Chickenhawk First Class with Distinguished Fleeing Cross.”

Anyway, I’m proud to be an American, too. But because I pack a union card, think government has an obligation to help people who need help, believe in strict separation of church and state and don’t consider “liberal” a dirty word, Greenwood might think I’m not. That’s fine by me.

I'm also grateful for our veterans, especially from World War II. Battle sites like Omaha and Utah Beaches and Bastogne – which I re-visited last summer – are hallowed ground to me.

My presidential choice going on 42 years ago volunteered for the Army Air Force shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and plunged America into the global conflict.

McGovern was a dad at war. His first child was born back home while he attacking heavily-defended Nazi targets in Europe in the “Dakota Queen,” a big, four-engine B-24 he named for his wife, Eleanor. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for his skill and courage at the controls of his warplane.

McGovern risked his life for his country, to many people the ultimate expression of patriotism. Yet he said "the highest patriotism" wasn't "a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one's country deep enough to call her to a higher standard."

I’ll add a Presbyterian “amen” to that.

Anyway, McConnell’s and Grimes’s choices of Greenwood and Roberts as campaign boosters seem like metaphors for their election bids.

McConnell is a union-despising, social Darwinist millionaire who is bankrolled by millionaires and billionaires. They expect him to do their bidding, and he never disappoints them.

A big chunk of McConnell's base are white folks of the Obama's-a-Kenyan-born-Sharia-Law-loving-Islamo-Socialist persuasion. So he enlisted their favorite singer. Doubtless, the concert goers whooped and hollered for Greenwood, who regularly campaigns for Republicans, including Romney in 2012. Greenwood has slammed President Obama “anti-American.” He tilts toward the tea party and the birthers.

On a Texas-based tea party radio talk show two years ago, he questioned Obama’s patriotism: “When he first took office, you’ll notice that if there were any patriotic salutes to the flag or the military, he never put his hand over his heart, which is tradition about loving your country, and never wore a flag on his lapel. I think that’s a must for a president.”

Greenwood also pandered, “There’s one more issue that has bothered me from the beginning…There are three things you have to be to be president. You have to be 35-years-old, a non-felon and born in this country. And the secrecy around his birth certificate from the very beginning made me so suspicious that whether it was right or wrong if he was born in Hawaii, I didn’t trust him any time after that.”

Greenwood insists he is a “blue collar” guy. But he gripes that business is regulated too much and that rich people are taxed too much. His buddy McConnell favors a national right to work law.

Grimes, on the other hand, invited a coal miner who is the son of a coal miner to campaign for her. Roberts doesn’t have to roll his own, but he’s not a millionaire.

I have heard Roberts, a Christian, fire up union crowds with powerful words. But I have never known him to say anything to imply that our side has cornered the market on patriotism or on religious truth.

Berry Craig

“At what point in time did the Bible start belonging to the Republicans and the business folks?” he asked me. “At what point in time did patriotism?”

“Amen” again.

Berry Craig