by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
March 29, 2002
A FLOCK OF CHICKEN HAWKS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Why does it always seem like the distinguished folks who scream the loudest for the use of military force are the ones who never spent a day in uniform?
The super-patriots who wormed their way out of military service when it was their time to fight have richly earned the title of "chickenhawks."
Daniel Fowle, editor and publisher of The New Hampshire Gazette, has made it easy to keep track of the men who, in his words, "share a number of qualities: a tendency to favor American military action, past, present and future; allegiance to the Republican Party, and a paradoxical lack of military service despite there having been a war on in their youth."
Fowle, a Vietnam veteran, has created the "chickenhawk Database," a compendium of prominent GOP members who either didn't serve in the military or who hid out in the National Guard during the Vietnam War. The list, which is growing longer and more detailed with each passing week, can be found at http://www.nhgazette.com/chickenhawks.html.
The hypocrisy of the chickenhawks is boundless. Take House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and this story related by columnist William Rivers Pitt at Truthout.com.
Back in 1988, when Republican nominee George Herbert Walker Bush picked Dan Quayle as his running mate, there was some controversy about how Quayle managed to avoid going to Vietnam through his family pulling some strings and getting him into an over-strength Army National Guard unit in Indiana. Pitt wrote that, at a news conference defending Quayle, DeLay said Quayle was prevented from enlisting for active duty because all the available spots were grabbed first by minorities.
DeLay, who apparently avoided military service during the Vietnam era at the urging of his wife, was one of the first people who jumped up to attack Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for raising questions about President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism." DeLay served as a bug exterminator during the Vietnam era. Kerry was a Naval officer, doing river patrols in Vietnam. He earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts in two combat tours and later was one of the founders of Vietnam Veterans Against The War. Who do you think has more legitimacy talking about the conduct of American militarypolicy?
Of course, pointing this out doesn't deter the chicken hawks. Perhaps you heard about the new conservative lobbying group, Americans for Victory over Terrorism. This group is part of William Bennett's Washington-based think tank, Empower America, and its goal is to "take to task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing."
Bennett, who made his reputation as America's moral scold, is ready to go after anyone who questions the "war on terrorism." But Bennett spent the Vietnam era in graduate school. At least he got a degree. President Bush's chief political advisor, Karl Rove, spent a lot of time in college during Vietnam but somehow managed to avoid graduating.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., went after Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., for his mild criticisms of President Bush "cloaking the war on terrorism in secrecy." Lott, who said Daschle's remarks could threaten the nation's resolve, avoided the draft and did not serve. Daschle was on stateside active duty in the Air Force during Vietnam.
Oh, and need I mention that Lott vigorously criticized Bill Clinton's military decisions - including the bombing of Iraq and Osama bin Laden's bases in Afghanistan in 1998 and the bombing of Serbia in 1999?
Vice President Dick Cheney is all for our current war. But when it was his time to serve in Vietnam, he sought several deferments and said that he "had other priorities than military service." That line of thinking was apparently also adopted by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, Attorney General John Ashcroft, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, former Independent Counsel Ken Starr, Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, and Republican National Committee Chairman Mark Racicot.
Yep, they all avoided serving in Vietnam. The conservative pundit corps, which vigorously attacked Bill Clinton for being a draft dodger, is also filled with chickenhawks. Anal cysts kept Rush Limbaugh out of Vietnam. George Will hid out in divinity school. Pat Buchanan had a bum knee. Chris Matthews, Bill O'Reilly, P.J. O'Rourke, Michael Reagan and Alan Keyes all sat Vietnam out.
And then there is President George W. Bush's Air National Guard career. Yes, family connections got him a safe job flying fighter jets over Texas. But, according to several published reports, he was taken off flight duty midway through his six-year enlistment and never showed up for training during his last two years of duty. Somehow, he got away with it.
I'm not saying that lack of military service disqualifies someone from being able to comment on military issues. I'm also not saying that the six years I spent as an infantryman in the Army National Guard makes me qualified to comment on military issues. What I am saying is that people who question the courage and patriotism of others and eagerly send young men and women off to war while passing up their chance to prove their courage and patriotism is wrong.
The war in Vietnam forced many young men to make choices. Clinton opposed the war and avoided the draft, but tried to do it in a way that would preserve his political future. Al Gore served in Vietnam to preserve his father's political career. Others got into reserve units, faked physical ailments or stayed in grad school to get out of serving. Some went to jail, fled the country or became conscientious objectors rather than die in a war that many believed was immoral and wrong. Others who believed in the cause fought and died there.
In other words, Vietnam was a defining moment for American men of the Baby Boom generation and what they did and how they did it speaks volumes. In this context, the contrast between men like Tom DeLay and Trent Lott, who took the easy way out, and a man like John Kerry, who didn't, is striking.
In a speech at a state Democratic Party fundraiser in Concord, N.H., on March 2, John Kerry took on Lott and DeLay and the rest of the chickenhawks. "One of the lessons that I learned in Vietnam - a war they did not have to endure - and one of the basic vows of commitment that I made to myself, was that if I ever reached a position of responsibility, I would never stop asking questions that make a democracy strong. Those who try to stifle the vibrancy of our democracy and shield policies from scrutiny behind a false cloak of patriotism miss the real value of what our troops defend and how best we defend our troops. We will ask questions and we will defend our democracy."
Sen. Kerry is absolutely correct. Democracy demands that citizens ask questions of their leaders and that they receive truthful answers in reply. This need for truth isn't served by bullies who attack other people's patriotism - especially from those who never put their bodies where their beliefs are.
Randolph T. Holhut was an infantryman in the Massachusetts Army National Guard from 1981 to 1987. He has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (BarricadeBooks).