It seems irony is lost on Mitt Romney. “When the opportunity arose to defend freedom, he’s either been late to the game or failed to show up at all,” the GOP presidential hopeful recently said of President Barack Obama.
His poll numbers sagging, at least for the present, Romney was trying to make political hay off violent attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi , Libya, the latter with fatal results.
Romney desperately wants John and Jane Q Citizen to believe that Uncle Sam’s enemies wouldn’t dare mess with Macho Mitt.
Tough talk is cheap, especially from a guy who evaded the draft and the Vietnam War in his salad days. Romney, 65, wasn’t “late in the game” in which more than 58,000 Americans died.
He didn’t “show up at all.”
I don’t blame Romney for doing all he could, legally, to stay out of Vietnam . I did the same thing. But while Romney was gung-ho for the war, I wasn’t.
Romney was one of those stay-at-home flag wavers common in all wars. They cheer others off to battle but make sure to keep themselves out of harm’s way.
Earlier this year, hot on the campaign trail, Romney lauded the “sacrifice ‘of the great men and women of every generation who serve in our armed forces,” Steve Peoples of the Associated Press reported.
Those veterans include my 88-year-old father, who fought in World War II. I praise them all, too. But because in my youth I chose not to fight in a war I opposed, I’m not much on saber-rattling at age 62.
Romney, on the other hand, opted against fighting in a war he backed, at least at first.
Added Peoples: “Though an early supporter of the Vietnam War, Romney avoided military service at the height of the fighting after high school by seeking and receiving four draft deferments, according to Selective Service records.”
A student deferment shielded Romney from the draft and Vietnam when he was at Stanford University. He protested anti-war protestors, Peoples wrote.
Today, Romney’s love-of-country spiel includes a hefty helping of Europe-bashing. He hates Old World-style democratic socialism, which he equates–wrongly–with communism.
Yet in 1966, Romney hopped a jet to France of all places to win converts to his Mormon faith instead of fighting communists in Vietnam .
He still had the opportunity to go to Vietnam after his missionary hitch was up in 1969. The war was still raging. Instead, he got more deferments to finish college at Brigham Young.
Like most Americans, including his father, Romney turned against the war. “‘If it wasn’t a political blunder to move into Vietnam, I don’t know what it is,’” a 23-year-old Romney would tell the Boston Globe in 1970 during the fifth year of his deferment,” Peoples wrote.
Later that year, Romney’s deferments ran out, and he became eligible for the draft. His draft lottery number was 300 out of 365, which virtually guaranteed he wouldn’t be drafted.
Despite his luck in the lottery, Romney still could have volunteered.
Anyway, the AP scribe also pointed out that in 2007, candidate Romney claimed in the Globe story that “he was frustrated, as a Mormon missionary, not to be fighting alongside his countrymen.”
Peoples quoted Romney: “I was supportive of my country. I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there, and in some ways it was frustrating not to feel like I was there as part of the troops that were fighting in Vietnam .”
All he had to do to ease his frustration was head for a military recruiting office. Other Mormon men his age did. While Romney was granted a missionary deferment “some young Mormon men elsewhere were denied that same status, which became increasingly controversial in the late 1960s.
“The Mormon church, a strong supporter of American involvement in Vietnam , ultimately limited the number of church missionaries allowed to defer their military service using the religious exemption.
Romney is hardly the only chest-thumping Republican who seems to have never met a war he didn’t like so long as others did the actual fighting. There are many more, including the last GOP president and vice president.
George W. Bush, who got us into Iraq and Afghanistan , got out of Vietnam by getting into the Texas Air National Guard. He evidently preferred flying the friendly skies of the Lone Star State to dodging Migs and SAM missiles over North Vietnam .
Colin Powell, an ex-Army four-star general and a Bush secretary of state, must be a forgiving soul. “I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed…managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units,” he penned in his memoirs. “…Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country.”
Like Romney, Dick Cheney used draft deferments to keep himself stateside and on Civvy Street. Bush’s VP said he had “other priorities” that trumped military service in the Vietnam era .
Anyway, I wonder what Romney would have made of a group of soldiers clad in desert camouflage we saw in 2007 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport .
We were in one line headed for a European vacation. They were several lines over and presumably bound for the Middle East.
Would Romney have gone over and given them a patriotic pep talk about defending “freedom”? Would he have told them that when he was their age, he longed to have fought in Vietnam? Would he have said he wished he were their age so he could go and fight alongside them?
Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Delaware Attorney Gen. Beau Biden, served in the Army in Iraq . None of the Romney boys are veterans. “When asked in 2007, during his first run for the presidency, about his sons’ lack of military service, Mitt Romney responded, ‘One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected because they think I’d be a great president,’” Cynthia Wachtell wrote in The Huffington Post.
She added, “Yet make no mistake about it, Mitt Romney wants a muscular military. His campaign website accuses President Obama of trying ‘to slash funds for our fighting men and women’ and putting ‘us on course toward a ‘hollow’ force.’ And Romney seems alarmingly willing to send American forces to Iran .
“His website states on its National Defense page, ‘ U.S. policy toward Iran must begin with an understanding on Iran ‘s part that a military option to deal with their nuclear program remains on the table.’” The syntax is clumsy, but the threat is clear.
“The American sons and daughters who Romney would send to Iran almost surely would not include any of his five strapping lads.”
My heart went out to the soldiers I saw in the airport. The irony was not lost on me.
My wife, our son, and I were happy to be flying to see English friends. The troops were going to fight America’s enemies.
I’ll admit it. I blinked back tears. Our son was then 14-years-old and with us. I could imagine the agony the moms and dads of these soldiers felt when they saw them leave.
And I thought back to my youth: There but the grace of God go would have gone I.
To be fair, Obama is not a veteran. “The Democrat, 50, was a child during the Vietnam conflict and did not enlist when he was older,” Peoples points out. Joe Biden wasn’t in service either.
But neither Obama nor Biden are implying that Romney (or Congressman Paul Ryan, his non-veteran running mate) is a wimp.
Anyway, Romney–and all other pols, Republicans or Democrats, who deliberately kept themselves out of war and who think the military option should be the first option–would do well to heed the words of a real warrior president, and a Republican to boot.
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity,” said Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was supreme allied commander in Europe in World War II before he was president.
Added Ike, one of only four five-star army generals in U.S. history:
- “There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”
- “When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war.”
Anyway, Romney’s saber-rattling doesn’t seem to be getting him very far, at least according to the polls, including one from the P ew Research Center.
Pew pollsters asked people “what one word best describes Mitt Romney?” Forty-two percent “of the words volunteered by respondents are clearly negative, most commonly liar, arrogant, crook, out of touch, distrust and fake,” the Pew Research website said. Only 28 percent were positive, and 30 percent were neutral.
Published: Monday, 17 September 2012