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Steve Wikert is a Hillary Clinton surrogate and Vietnam vet (U.S. Navy, Danang 1971). He enlisted in the Navy out of high school; then spent his time policing the perimeter of a U.S. naval support facility in Vietnam.

Veterans for Bernie

Bernie Sanders Most Qualified Commander in Chief—Ernest Canning

He wrote a missive to the Des Moines Register. Ignoring the fact that none of the 2016 presidential candidates in either party has served in the military, Wikert questioned whether Bernie Sanders is qualified to serve as Commander in Chief. After all, Wickert complains, Bernie had applied for conscientious objector (“CO”) status during the Vietnam war. The application was ultimately denied, but by that time Sanders was too old for the draft.

Wikert overlooks a key point that was raised by former President Bill Clinton in a Dec. 3, 1969 letter to Col. Eugene Holmes, the head of the ROTC at the University of Arkansas.

While in law school, the 41st president of these United States wrote a paper that considered the arguments for allowing CO status “for those opposed to participation in a particular war, not simply to ‘participation in war in any form.'” He informed Col. Holmes:

No government really rooted in limited, parliamentary democracy should have the power to make its citizens fight and kill and die in a war they may oppose, a war which even possibly may be wrong, a war which, in any case, does not involve immediately the peace and freedom of the nation.

Bill Clinton went so far as to suggest that “the draft itself was illegitimate.” In 1971, however, the Supreme Court upheld the position of the Selective Service. CO status was available only to those who morally opposed all wars.

In 1969 that standard created a moral dilemma for Bill Clinton. He informed Col. Holmes that he had worked “every day against a war [he] opposed and despised with a depth of feeling [he] had reserved solely for racism in America before Vietnam.” He added: “I was having a hard time facing the prospect of fighting a war I had been fighting against.”

It was a dilemma that Hillary Clinton never had to face. Women were not drafted.

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The former president revealed his high regard for those who had the courage to resist the draft during the Vietnam war:

Two of my friends at Oxford are conscientious objectors. I wrote a letter of recommendation for one of them to his Mississippi draft board, a letter which I am more proud of than anything else I wrote at Oxford last year. One of my roommates is a draft resister who is possibly under indictment and may never be able to go home again. He is one of the bravest, best men I know. His country needs men like him more than they know. That he is considered a criminal is an obscenity.

It is curious that Wikert would zero in on an application for CO status that entails an act of conscience. He ignores those, like Donald Trump and Dick Cheney, who hid behind “deferments” that had nothing to do with morality.

As a combat veteran, I much prefer a Commander in Chief who has the courage and moral fortitude to say no to an unnecessary and immoral war. I am hardly alone in that regard. Many of us who served this nation in Vietnam were sickened by the carnage wrought by lies and false bravado.

George W. Bush evaded combat in Vietnam when his influential father pull strings to place him in the Texas Air National Guard. Yet, he had the nerve to don a flight suit and stand on a carrier deck in front of a banner that boasted “Mission Accomplished.” And we are not unmindful that Hillary Clinton was amongst those who authorized the Bush/Cheney regime to launch that illegal war of aggression. Sanders wisely voted against the war in Iraq.

Many of us are concerned about the prospect of either Hillary Clinton or any of the Republican candidates assuming the role of Commander in Chief. And these concerns entail more than their subservience to the military-industrial complex and their aggressive proclivities.

Each of us who served took a solemn oath to defend the Constitution of these United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. It is a constitution that supposedly guarantees a republican form of government (aka representative democracy). None of us served to protect oligarchy, expand an increasingly oppressive corporate global empire, or to protect the corporate/Wall Street bottom line.

We, Veterans for Bernie, seek a president who will lead us away from unnecessary foreign entanglements. We see ourselves as a part of a political revolution that adheres to the egalitarian principles embodied in our nation’s founding documents. What we want is what President Abraham Lincoln described in his Gettysburg Address: a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”


Ernest Canning
Veterans for Bernie