Where were Chuck Hagel and Bill Kristol in Vietnam era?

on 102 Comments

Yesterday a friend wrote: 

The Chuck Hagel Defense Secretary nomination is a referendum on what America thinks about two Americans, exceedingly different in their politics, character, and life-experiences: Chuck Hagel and Bill Kristol. The anti-Hagel campaign was launched by Kristol, and with all his outlets (the Weekly Standard, Emergency Committee for Israel, AEI, WSJ), depend on it, not a flunky, blogger, or senator on his side of the game puts mouth to microphone without clearing the approach with him. I wish the IB (Internet Bigstream)–someone at HP or the Daily Beast or Salon or Slate–would turn the issue in this direction. Do a chronology of the life of Bill Kristol….Cheering the Vietnam war while dodging service (something Stephen Colbert brought up, in a 2006 interview, to Bill’s extreme embarrassment); assistant to wild-man Bennett and sleepy Dan Quayle; first big success, in his daily strategy-bulletins to Republicans in Congress on how to defeat Clinton’s health care plan; hot advocacy of impeachment of Clinton; promotion of Iraq war with false facts and sanguine predictions; promotion of war over Georgia, war with Syria, war with Iran; assistant and (possibly) liaison to Romney 2012 in effort to undermine Obama via accusations of disloyalty to Israel; above all, consistent defender of torture.

Where were Hagel and Kristol during the Vietnam era? First Hagel. These excerpts are from his book America: Our Next Chapter Tough Questions, Straight Answers (2008, written with Peter Kaminsky) and begins with Hagel’s childhood in the small town of Ainsworth, Nebraska, where his veteran father and mother were very active in the American Legion Post and American Legion Auxiliary: 

Whatever was true in Ainsworth, I thought, was probably true everywhere… Service was simply what people did. It’s the way neighbors helped each other and looked out for one another. It’s what the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville found so remarkable about our democracy and its people in the nineteenth century. Service to others. Service to your country… Service meant that when your country called, you answered the call. It would never have occurred to anyone to question it. If the president said he needed you, that was enough. It was enough for me at the age of 21 [in 1967], which is how I eventually found myself pinned down by Viet Cong rifle fire, badly burned, with my wounded brother in my arms.

I still believe, as my father did, in serving our country. But history has taught me that we must require better answers than we have been given before we ask our young men and women to sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. And when lives and families are put at risk, those questions should be probing, serious, and unrelenting. I would go so far as to say that it is unpatriotic not to ask them. I do not believe the people’s representatives pressed these questions strongly enough in the run-up to the Iraq war. …

If you listen to the tapes released by the Johnson Library, on which President Lyndon B. Jonson and Senator Richard Russell discuss Vietnam in the mid-1960s, you will hear President Johnson confess that we couldn’t win in Vietnam, but we couldn’t pull out because he didn’t want to be the first president to lose a war. Senator Russell said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Get out, it’s unfair to project this country into a situation where on the outside you’re saying, ‘Stay steady, stay the course, there’s lights at the end of the tunnel, we can win’ when privately you are saying we can’t win. That’s wrong.”

I wish someone had told me when I was sitting on a burning tank in a Vietnamese rice paddy that I was fighting for a lost cause just to save a president’s legacy. I volunteered to go to Vietnam to defend our nation, not to save LBJ’s place in history. The cold political calculation I heard on those tapes made me vow that I would never—ever– remain silent when that kind of thinking put more American lives at risk in any conflict.

Bill Kristol went on the Stephen Colbert report in 2006 and called for a larger military for the war in Iraq and other important operations, and Colbert asked him about his own non-military service. The dialogue is at 5:30 or so.

Colbert: Where are you going to get the soldiers. Are you going to go for a draft?…. If I was young enough to be drafted, I’d say yes.

Kristol: I’m open to a draft… I’m not against the draft as a matter of principle. We don’t need a draft to increase the army by a couple of divisions.

C; Were you drafted. You were Vietnam age?

K: No I was a little too young.

C: How old were you in 1972?

K: 19.

C: That’s old enough.

K: No I was in the lottery for one year, and Nixon canceled the draft, and so I didn’t volunteer.

C: Great man.

K: [Uncomfortable laughter.]

My anonymous friend notes:

Kristol was born (Wikipedia) December 23, 1952, making him 19 in 1971. The war was still at full throttle. Doubtless he took a student deferment. He could have volunteered, as Chuck Hagel did. He always describes himself as having been at the time a “Scoop Jackson Democrat.” Jackson was pro-war. So were Kristol’s parents, who in 1972 circulated a signed statement Democrats for Nixon–a portent of neoconservatism. Half of this Colbert probably knew, the rest he intuited. These things are NEVER spoken of as if they mattered. Well, now they do.

P.S. To be clear, I demonstrated against both the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and surely would have dodged the draft if I had been exposed to it in the Vietnam era. My sense of service growing up in an academic Jewish family was very different from Hagel’s.

102 Responses

  1. xSFer6871
    October 26, 2014, 9:59 pm

    It is really tiring to hear people spout the refrain about not serving in the military because “my lottery number was too high/I didn’t get drafted”, as if that was the only way of entering military service during the days of draft calls.  Especially when they are also public and avowed hawks and war shills––such as William Kristol–– this is a particularly disingenuous cop-out.

    Just a couple of observations on the piece taken from the Colbert Report in 2006:
    ––being 19 is not “too young” to enter the military, just too young to get drafted.  One can enter at 17 with parental consent, although not be sent to a combat zone until 18
    ––forget the draft, Kristol could have put his body where his mouth was/is at any time after December 23, 1969 when he turned 17
    ––while true that the Selective Service stopped making draft calls in January 1973, Nixon did not “cancel the draft”.  The Selective Service System is still very much with us (to the tune of about $130M/yr), and only went into “Standby” mode in 1973, by which time withdrawal of troops from Vietnam and the success of Volunteer Army recruitment incentives significantly                         
    reduced the need for draft calls.  The SSS remains in a state of readiness  to ramp up and be inducting within 90 days.
    –– not widely known at the time was that there were no coordinating linkages between Selective Service and the military’s Armed Forces Entry and Examination Stations–the places one reports to for processing into military service.  Thus untold thousands of guys who received their “Greetings…” letter from Selective Service and just ignored them had no  consequences for failure to report for induction
    ––the SSS’s target group for drafting was the 20-22 year-old non-college group, so the possibility of Kristol’s being drafted were negligible in any case, since he’d have been using his student deferment during those years and was not in the appropriate demographic to be called anyway.
    ––thus the threat of the draft was infinitesimal for all but the biggest of collegiate goofballs during the Vietnam Era, yet a huge cultural fiction about those chances implied that all 18-26 year olds were equally subject to the draft.  Not so. Nothing heroic about being a middle class draft escapee; we weren’t going to be tapped anyway, we just didn’t know it at the time, so sweated needlessly. Since the student deferment was hinged on receipt of the Bachelor’s degree, a lot of people wasted a lot of time working on those 6-7 year BAs for nothing. 

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